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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.