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Will Firefox Mobile Make It in Time?

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Sure it’s early days in the mobile browser wars, but early days have a tendency to fly by quickly, and by the time Firefox introduces a beta version of its upcoming mobile browser later this year, it may be too late. Last night Aza Raskin, head of user experience for Mozilla Labs, posted a demo of the forthcoming mobile browser along with some ideas and features he’s thinking about. He has some good ones. But he also has a large blind spot in that he says it’s designed for a touch phone.

Touch, and Raskin’s realization that fingers are fat and so buttons need to be big, are what makes the demo so compelling. However, even as touch spreads as a user interface, plenty of people may never have such an advanced device at all. Jay Sullivan, VP of Firefox Mobile, said the company is developing for other interfaces as well, but it’s difficult. “The non-touch devices present a super design challenge, especially those without QWERTY keyboards. No existing browsers are very usable on those devices, so there’s a lot of room for innovation there,” Sullivan said.

Still, it’s hard to hear Mozilla CEO John Lilly talk about the value of bringing an open web to mobile users, rather than a web experience filtered through carriers to cell phone subscribers, and not hope for success. But even aside from the relative dearth of touch phones out there, Firefox mobile has several barriers to overcome.

The mobile browsers using WebKit as their platform are farther along, and as Om points out, WebKit (unlike Firefox on the desktop) results in a smaller footprint when compared with other mobile browsers. There’s also the grand champion of mobile browsers in Opera Mini, which had 11.9 million users as of March, to fight off. And let’s not forget startup browsers such as Skyfire for Windows Mobile devices. I think Firefox would be well-advised to get the lead out and start wowing with innovations beyond touch.

10 Responses to “Will Firefox Mobile Make It in Time?”

  1. Markus is right on about add-ons. That’s where Firefox is needed on the mobile and even more specifically ad-blocker. It’s silly that other browsers either don’t include such a feature or have to rename it to “content blocker” and make it cumbersome to use. Browsing on a smaller device with limited bandwidth and screen real estate screams “I need an ad blocker.” Who wants to wait for a bunch of flash ads and scripting to load in that environment?

  2. I hope by innovation on devices they aren’t spending lots of time trying to figure out input methods on numeric keypads. That’s a waste of time. Anyone that truly wants a web experience will have a touch or qwerty interface. The number of phones limited to strictly numeric buttons is sure to dwindle as people upgrade to smart phones.

  3. Markus

    How many Nokia 810s are out there in the market? And has one really seen the finished product to say that it “rocks” I have it on my Nokia 810 and frankly, I am not ready to jump to those conclusions. Maybe it looks better because the one Nokia bundles is a cumbersome beast.

  4. I don’t understand your point.

    Fennec, an alpha version of the mobile Mozilla browser, is the best of all browsers I have installed on my Nokia N810 touch device. It feels like the real Firefox, since nearly everyone of the valuable Add Ons works and I can install search plugins.

    Especially the Adblocker makes me happy, as well as the tabbed browsing. I also run the other mentioned browsers on my S60 and Windows Mobile devices. None of them is as great as Fennec.

    Until now Fennec looks like the PC version of Mozilla, which already makes me happy. But when it gets Aza Raskin’s user interface it will be nearly perfect. I can’t wait to install it as Alpha or Beta version.

    Webkit and Opera mobile are also great. But what really rocks is Mozillas versatility.

  5. Hey Om,

    The touch stuff is easy to see, and obviously makes a great demo, but we’ve got even more going on under the hood with performance (especially JavaScript) and memory that are going to make the Firefox mobile experience strictly top-notch. We’re seeing a ton of interest from device and carrier crowds both, in no small part _because_ of that impressive performance in time and space on their devices: they like to go fast and be small, and so do we.