With Mobile, Firefox Buys Into the Browser and Scorns Apps

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.

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Screenshot image courtesy Mozilla.

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