Europe pumps £8.5m into hardware-agnostic apps

The European Commission has announced funding for the Webinos project to develop a platform for applications that can run across multiple devices, including smartphones, TVs and cars

Webinos, a project to develop a platform for applications that can run across a range of devices, has received a €10m injection from the European Union.

The Webinos (Secure WebOS application delivery environment) open-source platform will allow applications to plug into multiple operating systems across multiple types of hardware, including cars, televisions, mobile phones and personal computers. On Wednesday, the European Commission announced that it is contributing €10m (£8.5m) to the effort under the ICT section of its Seventh Framework Programme. The project will run over three years and is expected to cost around €15m in total.

The international research consortium developing Webinos is led by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and has more than 20 partners, including the University of Oxford, Deutsche Telekom and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.

"The vision of the project is to create 'a universal application platform'. That means we aim to enable the use of web applications consistently and securely across all internet-enabled screens — including mobile, PC, TV and in-car entertainment units," said Dr Stephan Steglich, consortium lead for the project at the Fraunhofer Institute, in a statement.

The finished platform could work as a "dropbox for all the different devices", Steglich told ZDNet UK on Thursday. For example, a person could view a programme on television, pause the stream, then resume watching it on a phone or a computer, if these devices were Webinos-equipped, he explained.

The project has two major phases, Steglich added, and the consortium hopes to have a first iteration of the platform ready after 18 months.

The scheme will not rely on the development of an entirely new operating system as there are "many good ones out there already", Steglich said, but will instead focus on building an "application execution layer" with a common language.

"It will be a platform sitting on top of the operating-system kernel, or it could be an application running on the operating system besides other applications," he said.

Technical implementation work will begin after six months. At present, the consortium is discussing the key features and potential deployments of the ultimate application.

Steglich said that it may be impossible to develop a truly hardware-agnostic system but said "that's the vision and we will look in that direction and see how far we can get". However, he noted that the ultimate fine tuning for different hardware set-ups may lie with the specific hardware's developer.

The consortium is currently looking at multiple operating systems for ultimate implementation, Steglich said, with the current focuses being Android for mobile phones and MeeGo for cars.

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