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Summary:

Mozilla’s new Firefox for Maemo is an impressive new mobile browser designed to provide a seamless experience for users across phones and PCs. But in an era built on smartphone apps and app stores, can a browser-based strategy win?

Mozilla is hoping to create a seamless browsing experience regardless of whether you’re accessing the Internet on a phone or PC. But in the era of the native mobile app, is that a strategy that can win?

Firefox for Maemo, which was released earlier this week, offers some undeniably cool features for Nokia’s new mobile operating system. The browser includes Weave, a tool that syncs bookmarks, saved passwords, browsing history and open browser tabs with your PC, effectively minimizing the keystrokes that can be such a hassle on a phone. And Fennec, as the mobile browser is dubbed, enables users to choose from about 40 other browser add-ons, including an ad blocker and a YouTube interface.

Those add-ons provide an impressive level of personalization, and they underscore the role that the browsers may eventually fill as a unifying force in the increasingly complex world of smartphone platforms. But the strategy contrasts with the OS-specific model pursued by Apple and a host of others. Even Google — whose business is the web — has followed in Apple’s footsteps with its Android OS and related app store, Android Market.

For Mozilla to help reshape that paradigm, it will need to create a mobile footprint to match its presence on PCs, where it claims a 24 percent market share — and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Nokia’s Maemo is on a tiny fraction of mobile phones, and while a Windows Mobile version of the Fennec browser is in production, the browser is incompatible with BlackBerry OS and would likely be banned from Apple’s App Store. That’s why Mozilla’s best near-term hope for traction in mobile lies in an Android version that is expected to follow the Windows Mobile offering.

If Fennec is a hit with Android users, Mozilla could help mobile evolve beyond a landscape of OS-specific applications and toward a more PC-like environment where apps are largely web-based. That’s a very attractive scenario for developers who have long had to build a different version of each app for each mobile platform, but it’s also a long way off.

Related GigaOM Pro research (sub. req’d):

Screenshot image courtesy Mozilla.

  1. To emphasize your last point, the Windows Mobile version has been in progress for over 2 years, and they’re still on Alpha 3, so I don’t know how eager I would be as an Android user to see Firefox on my phone anytime soon. Obviously this is a large undertaking and I know they’re trying to make it work well and fit into their build processes, work with extensions, etc., but it is taking a very long time. And that’s even more noticable in the mobile space, where apps and platforms are evolving very quickly.

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  2. [...] gets the long game we’re playing. http://gigaom.com/2010/02/03/with-mobile-firefox-buys-into-the-browser-and-scorns-apps/ johnolilly – Wed 03 Feb 22:41 previous next SandForce: Better [...]

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  3. Niraj, the current Windows Mobile version has not been in development for two years. There have been starts on development and then restarts as people figured out what to do with necessary problems. The project as a whole has been going on for a while but Maemo and Windows Mobile have been progressing in tandem while Maemo got more attention recently leading up to its 1.0 release.

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    1. I wasn’t implying development itself has taken over 2 years. But the current effort with Fennec on Windows Mobile did begin in November of 2007 (or earlier), and you can see the periodic progress appear in the weekly status calls:
      https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/Notes

      In fact to your point, in their most recent status from Feb. 3rd, they do even mention: “Get some focus on Windows Mobile”. But that’s exactly my point. The Windows Mobile effort has not had as much focus and is still in the alpha phase (it’s near Alpha 4 now), so if the Android effort is to follow that as this article suggests, it will really be a long time before we’ll see anything for Android.

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  4. [...] Read this article: With Mobile, Firefox Buys Into the Browser and Scorns Apps – GigaOM [...]

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