Mozilla hopes to match Phone apps to webApps..

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What if, when you fired up your mobile phone’s browser, it showed a list of the same basic apps your phone does today? And what if a developer who wanted an app to span iPhones, Android phones, and Windows phones only had to write one Web application to do that?

That’s the vision that Mozilla, developer of the Firefox Web browser, wants to enable through a project called WebAPI that’s designed to make Web-based applications compete better with native apps. And Mozilla has begun hiring programmers for it as part of a plan to build the necessary plumbing by next February, CNET has learned.

Web apps have grown steadily in maturity and sophistication over the years, but they still can’t do all of what software written to run natively on a computing device can do. And with the arrival of newly powerful mobile devices–those using Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems in particular–native app programming has experienced a renaissance.

Mozilla, though, wants the Web to catch up–at least as far as mobile phones. The WebAPI effort aims to provide HTML-based software with the necessary application programming interfaces (APIs).

“We are aiming at providing all the necessary APIs to build a basic HTML5 phone experience within the next 3 to 6 months,” the Mozilla wiki page on WebAPI said. Among the interfaces planned are those to interact with a phone’s dialer, address book, contacts list, and camera.

If Mozilla succeeds in the effort, the project could ease the lives of developers who today must decide whether to allocate resources for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other operating systems. And, given that Firefox is front and center in the project, it could help Mozilla address its competitive weakness in the mobile market compared to the iOS and Android browser that both are based on the WebKit project.

Mozilla need not start from scratch. Some related work has been under way already through a group called the Device API, a project that browser maker Opera has pushed. In addition, some of the abilities are present in Adobe Systems’ Flash technology, though that hasn’t spread widely through the mobile device market.

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