On H.264 Revisited

Once again the debate over H.264 has come up in the Mozilla community. I’ve been a strong advocate of the WebM/VP8 codec given its liberal license and abilities and still am, but agree H.264 needs to be supported. It’s a requirement for mobile (B2G), and becoming necessary on the desktop.

A little over a year ago Chrome talked about dropping support for H.264. To date they have not done so, or given any indication that is even still in the plans as far as I know. In 2010 Adobe said they would be supporting WebM (link in that same blog post). They too have failed to live up to their promises. In either case I’ve found no indication on the internet they ever plan to go forward with those plans.

I suspect in Google’s case they were pressured by various providers and mobile partners who don’t want to encode or support another encoding. Google’s been trying to woo anyone/everyone for the purposes of Google TV and presumably YouTube. It’s likely just not worth it for them to push. There are various theories floating around about Adobe including a lack of clear Flash strategy in an HTML5 world. Adobe does however have a “tools” strategy. Perhaps time will tell.

Furthermore Apple and Microsoft are fundamentally opposed to WebM as they are both licensors for H.264. The odds of them supporting something that hurts their bottom line unless the rest of the web is threatening to leave them behind is nearly 0.

I question however if it should be bundled vs. using system codecs. Windows XP aside, system codecs mean that Microsoft and Apple are essentially responsible for making it work as well as the expense. Plugins could be used for OS’s that don’t ship with the appropriate codecs.

It’s time to put some effort into a JavaScript player for WebM and make that liberally licensed. Browsers still aren’t quite there, but eventually the day will come when that’s workable. The web will then gain the ability to have video play on any (modern) device. Just not natively. That is the backdoor for an open codec.

The real issue is larger than the <video/> element. It’s software patents and their ability to undermine innovation and progress. It’s important to keep this in mind. Just look at mobile. It’s completely possible that the entire mobile industry could come to a halt over patent lawsuits and fear of lawsuits. All it takes is a company willing to press the button. Google spent $12.5 billion in what is essentially the patent equivalent of nuclear proliferation. That’s how real the threat is perceived. H.264 is arguably a fart in a hurricane.

On Boot To Gecko

Always bet on JavaScript, always bet on the web. This is really the reason Boot to Gecko is so interesting. Microsoft is now learning this the hard way. If Apple isn’t careful they too will learn this the hard way.

There’s been a lot of talk today about Telefónica’s involvement, but it’s worth noting the Mozilla blog announcement also mentions Deutsche Telekom Innovation Labs will join the Boot to Gecko project with dedicated development resources. That’s a pretty big deal.

The ability to run on lower end hardware which is cheaper to produce in quantity will make a huge difference. Tech in general tends to focus on North America, Europe, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Australia in terms of target market. They do this because they are wealthy countries reasonably free markets, similar taste, and trade agreements make it favorable.

This however has a huge downside. Overall this is excluding a huge chunk of the world. China alone is about 1.3 billion people (CIA estimate 2012) with a GNI of $7,570 (compared to $47,120 for the US). As large as Brazil is (~192.3 million), it’s only half of the 385.7 million in South America.

Take a look at the map in terms of GNI:
World by GNI PPP Per Capita

Now compare that to population density. Pay close attention to Asia, South Asia and Western Africa:
Population Density

Who’s dominated this market to date? For most of the time it’s been Symbian since phones that run that slim OS have been rather cost effective. More recently it’s becoming Android now that older hardware exists that can be produced cheaply. Notice in the graph below where Android’s growth is coming from. Many would like you to think it’s only Apple and Android out there. That’s hardly where Android is growing users from. It’s market-share from Symbian.


Mobile Market Share

That Apple iOS dip is likely the drop-off prior to the iPhone 4S shipping rather than Android. It was only released in October after iPhone 4 sales stalled in anticipation. You see a similar dip in 2008. 2009 is likely offset by the iPad’s success.

Of course an OS that runs fast on slower ARM hardware will run blazing fast on more expensive state of the art hardware. So everyone really benefits from being lean and fast.

This is about bringing the mobile internet to billions of people. It’s a big deal.

Hat Tip to Wikipedia for the maps and graph