Interview: Motorola on Taking the Web to the Next Level

I spoke with Gilles Drieu, Vice President of Software Engineering at Motorola Mobility, about his participation in W3C.

IJ: What motivates you to participate in W3C?

GD: From the early 90’s, I have always had a passion for the web. I think it’s important to continue to push the web with open standards. The people I work with at Motorola Mobility come from different backgrounds but we share a “common DNA,” which drives our interest in standards work. Part of our common DNA is that rich graphics are important and now, finally, they are converging with open standards.

IJ: So rich graphics are keys to taking the web to the “next level”? (I saw a number of great demos featuring rich graphics at W3Conf in November.)

GD: I would say there are three keys. The first is that video and audio will be available on any browser and any platform, natively, through open standards. The idea of being able to watch a video as simply as you can display an image and text is fundamental. You don’t want the tedium of installing plug-ins or having to use complex markup. Browsers have default controls for this content, which simplifies its publication.

GD: We also need the web platform to support premium content. Integration with digital rights management (DRM) would close the loop with some important content providers. There are encouraging discussions going on between the HTML Working Group and the participants of the web and TV Interest Group. The fact that Adobe has announced that it will not pursue Flash on mobile devices means that there is an incredible opportunity, but we need to act quickly.

GD: The second key is to be able to create animations and spatial transformations using open standards (such as CSS transforms, transitions and animations). Except for some details, this work is mostly done. The web developers’ community has embraced the technology. Also very exciting, the WebKit community is now innovating with new concepts such as CSS shaders and filters.

GD: The third key is performance. Video and graphics are processing intensive. On mobile devices, native applications take advantage of hardware acceleration by using graphics processing units (GPUs). There is a lot of expertise out there from people who have worked on Flash, Silverlight, iOS, and so on. W3C has been essential to get the people with that expertise to the standards table, and they are now designing a high-performance run-time environment. These people have deep expertise on WebKit and GPUs, and they are joining others that have deep access to expertise on publishing or tooling. Because they have come together in various W3C groups and applied their diverse skills to standards, we have made a leap of progress in the past five years.

IJ: Where do big performance leaps come from?

GD: If you want to avoid using the CPU and battery of a mobile device, you need to leverage GPU technology. Native apps have some advantages today because they use libraries that are GPU-optimized. In mobile, your frame rate falls apart unless you use the GPU. There have been great performance strides in Javascript as well. Standards are “showing the way” but there needs to be more of a feedback loop between implementation/optimization and semantics.

IJ: I’ll mention in passing that W3C has launched a Web Performance Working Group and is investing more in testing.

GD: This is so important! Having a formalized way to profile your web app or your web content is something we need to do clearly. It would be cool to standardize a way to add instrumentation in runtimes. Because expressive graphics and media are so intensive, you can’t cheat on mobile. It shows. You’ll notice, for example, better animation performance with WebKit since the libraries it uses are GPU-accelerated. If we could enable the rest of the world to instrument their code, that would help everyone get to that level of performance.

IJ: When do you think web apps will reach the same performance?

GD: I expect the gap will go away in 1 or 2 years. On both mobile and desktop.

IJ: Do native apps have other advantages today that you see going away?

GD: Native apps can leverage more native system APIs, so developers can access more the device capabilities. W3C’s Web Applications Working Group and DAP Working Group are working on bringing those APIs to the web. If we can standardize device APIs that provide developers access to the whole device, efficiently (which should not be a problem for standard functionalities), then I think we will really see the emergence of a ubiquitous, cross device web platform and an ecosystem based on open standards.

IJ: Can you say a word about Motorola’s participation in W3C?

GD: We are interested in web technologies for mobile devices based on Android. To become a “player” (meaning a relevant contributor and potentially an influencer) in the web world, you have to do 2 things: be active in open source (contribute to WebKit) and be involved in open web standards. Our investment in being part of the web community is essential to us. That’s why were are here at W3C.

IJ: Thank you, Gilles!