16 Comments

Summary:

Is there room for another browser on Android? Mozilla says yes with the first experimental release of Fennec for Android. I took it for a spin and it looks promising. But why does Mozilla want its browser on smartphones? The answer has to do with desktops.

Is there room for another mobile browser on smartphones? Actions speak louder than words, so Mozilla is answering that question by releasing its first iteration of the Firefox browser for Android handsets. Fennec, as the browser is known, is in a pre-alpha state, meaning it’s not ready for the general populace. That didn’t stop me from installing it on my Google Nexus One, however, and even in this early stage of the life cycle, Fennec is looking very nice.

Why an alternative browser, though, when the stock Google web browser is already quite good? In a word: Weave. Mozilla’s Weave project synchronizes browsing data between desktop and mobile — bookmarks, saved passwords, browsing history and even open tabs. Using Weave, for example, you could have several tabs open on your desktop in Firefox, walk away, open Firefox on a phone and see the same tabs appear. Google offers a similar feature with its Chrome browser, but Mozilla’s implementation is farther along in the handset space.

I haven’t taken Weave for a spin on Android since it’s highly experimental, but I did use the browser for a bit this morning. For those not familiar with Fennec on a smartphone, Mozilla leverages off-screen space to control bookmarks, open tabs and settings. You can slide the main browsing page left or right to see the controls, which provides access to advanced features on the small screen without cluttering up the browsing experience — a clever implementation that you can see in my screen captures below. There’s currently no support for multitouch zooming or Adobe Flash, however. Fennec on the Nokia N900 originally included support for a Flash plug-in, but Mozilla later pulled it, saying, “The performance of the plugin didn’t meet our standards.”

In this early stage, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone use Fennec as a full-time browser — nor does Mozilla. The code isn’t optimized and performance is sluggish. And this first version requires a phone with some higher-end horsepower — it only works on Android 2.0 devices and up, for example. But it does show promise and if Mozilla can gain traction on the phone with its browser, it could keep more people using Firefox on the desktop thanks to the Weave experience.

 

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

What Does the Future Hold For Browsers?

  1. I wish Firefox would get their desktop browser house in order. Many of the users I support are bailing on Firefox; it’s become slow and consumes computer resources like crazy. It’s really a shame considering how good 0.9 was.

    Share
    1. Peter, I’m right there with you. Once Chrome supported extensions in the dev channel build, I left and haven’t looked back. To each his or her own, of course.

      Share
      1. But Mr. Tofel, why are you talking about Weave as if it’s a game-changer when Opera has been syncing bookmarks and all that for years already? :(

        Share
    2. You mean like all the work that Firefox already did in Firefox 3.6 and is continuing in the next big release? Have you actually compared things (maybe after turning off some of your badly written extensions) in the current version?

      Share
      1. Unfortunately, Firefox is now the slowest browser. Even slower than IE9.

        Quite pathetic.

        And to make matters worse, Firefox’s market share is dropping, and Chrome is taking over completely.

        Bye bye, Bloatfox.

        Share
  2. I think it’s only a matter of time before Google incorporates some kind of bookmark sync with the stock browser and Chrome.

    I would certainly consider using Firefox again if the benefits of Weave outweigh the speed of Chrome.

    Share
  3. “Why an alternative browser, though, when the stock Google web browser is already quite good? In a word: Weave. Mozilla’s Weave project synchronizes browsing data between desktop and mobile”

    So, basically what Opera has been doing for several years with Opera Mini and Opera Mobile?

    Share
    1. Indeed!

      Share
      1. Yeah but no one really cares about Opera with its sub-2% market share.

        Betamax was great too but, in the end, people vote with their feet.

        Share
      2. Actually, Opera has a 25-30% market share in the mobile browser market.

        What’s Firefox’s mobile market share? 0%, just about!

        Opera’s desktop version has a global market share of 3-4%, and 5-10% in Europe.

        If no one cares about Opera, then no one certainly cares about Firefox on mobiles with its 0% market share!

        Remember, we are discussing mobile browsers here. Firefox fanboys need to pay attention.

        Share
      3. Funny about these Firefox fanboys popping up in a story about mobile browser and bashing Opera for a 3% market share worldwide, while Firefox for mobiles has a pathetic 0% market share while Opera has 30%.

        LOL.

        Share
  4. [...] let’s just say its new product releases haven’t been particularly snappy. Exhibit A is Fennec, the company’s long-gestating mobile browser. Mozilla now measures its web browser Firefox at [...]

    Share
  5. [...] multitouch capabilities, a fast JavaScript engine, simple bookmarking — perhaps even with synchronization of those bookmarks on the desktop — and support for current web [...]

    Share
  6. [...] I've used Skyfire on Symbian, and it was so incredibly slow, that I hardly used it at all. I await Fennec, but am not very [...]

    Share
  7. [...] but if Mozilla keeps improving Fennec, I have a difficult decision to make  in the future. And that’s exactly what Mozilla is hoping for: more users for both its desktop and mobile browser for a seamless experience regardless of [...]

    Share
  8. [...] but if Mozilla keeps improving Fennec, I have a difficult decision to make  in the future. That’s exactly what Mozilla is hoping for: more users for both its desktop and mobile browser for a seamless experience regardless of [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post