Blog Post

Firefox Mobile's Secret Weapon: Browser Add-Ons

Firefox Mobile, aka Fennec, doesn’t exactly have an aggressive rollout strategy — it’s set to arrive any day now on the Nokia Maemo platform, on Windows Mobile in the first half of next year and Android maybe sometime after that. But what’s already very cool about the browser is that it allows add-ons from outside developers, one of the reasons people love Firefox so much. And perhaps even more than for Firefox on the PC, where customizations like ad-blocking and link-downloading are immensely popular, personalizing a browser for mobile use will be incredibly useful and exciting.

Your mobile browser is always with you, can get your attention with an alert, and knows your location. Firefox can already make use of those features and aspects, and Mozilla VP Mobile Jay Sullivan says the company is working on support for multitouch, haptic feedback and process separation. Beyond making use of added inputs and user behaviors, there’s also the opportunity to creatively improve the usability of the incredibly constrained mobile browsing experience.

Already there are about 40 mobile Firefox add-ons. True, they’re a bit rough around the edges and quite similar to what’s already available on the PC, but some of them are pretty cool. Here are the most interesting so far:

  • First and probably most important is Mozilla’s Weave Sync, which connects your Firefox history, bookmarks and open tabs from your PC to your phone. So when you load up Firefox on mobile, you can leave off right where you were when you were at the office. If you type a few letters into the URL bar, it knows from experience where you’re most likely to want go.It’s not hard to imagine how useful this could be; a continuous personalized experience just makes sense. However, early adopters beware; current reviews of the add-on are mixed.
  • Are you the kind of person who loses your phone often? Meet FireFound. Every time your phone changes location, it will send its coordinates to a server. If your phone ever gets stolen or misplaced, you can log in and see where it is. What’s more, you can even clear all the personal data saved in your browser remotely.
  • There are already a couple of add-ons to help you deal with fat-fingered input on your miniature keyboard or touchscreen. Lazy Click applies clicks to the nearest clickable object, and URL Fixer fixes common typos, like .cmo for .com. There’s also an experimental add-on called Fennec Gestures that shows how a user might be able to control their browser with gestures (see video demo).
  • Using mobile web pages really blows sometimes, but here are a few add-ons to ease the pain: AutoPager automatically loads the next page when you get to the bottom of one; Fastest Scroll in the West makes skimming long pages quicker; and Mobilize helps you switch to mobile versions of sites, if they exist.
  • If you’re a frequent tweeter, you might install TwitterBar to update Twitter directly from the Firefox address bar. The add-on puts a Twitter icon in the bar, which you can click on to tweet or hover over to see how many characters you have left. There’s also a similar add-on for Both are available for regular Firefox, but you can see how much more useful they would be on a tiny handset screen.
  • There are a couple of early geo add-ons, too. GeoGuide loads up map, pictures, weather, events and Wikipedia entries based on where you are. Near Me uses your location to do a search of local businesses.

P.S. At least three of these add-ons were made by Minnesota developer Chris Finke in his spare time, which is pretty darn impressive.

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