Mozilla Targets Tablets With New Browser Designs
Tablets have caught the interest of browser maker Mozilla, which is polishing up a new version of its Firefox browser for Android tablets. Previews show a tablet browser with many elements that will be familiar to users of the company's desktop version. However, users generally don't yet seem to be as choosy about the browsers on their mobile devices as they are about the browsers on their desktops.
09/02/11 5:00 AM PT
The Mozilla Foundation is enhancing the tablet version of its Firefox browser.
It's leveraging Android Honeycomb but retaining familiar visual elements of Firefox such as the signature big back button and distinctive tab shape, according to a blog post by Ian Barlow, who works on Mozilla's mobile user experience team.
Some of the UI elements that were tucked away on Firefox for smartphones to maximize screen space have been brought back in the version for tablets.
However, it's not quite clear which version or versions of Android Mozilla is working on \u2013 an earlier post on the Mozilla Mobile blog that talks about the enhanced tablet experience says the browser is now better integrated into Android Gingerbread, the version of Android that predates Honeycomb, the version meant for tablets.
The Mozilla Foundation did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Firefox for the Tablet
Firefox for Honeycomb has an Awesomebar that uses the same tabbed menu as the desktop version to offer rapid access to bookmarks, history and users' synced desktop activity, Barlow stated.
Some tabs that were hidden on the smartphone version of Firefox have been brought back onto the screen and given some extra juice.
For example, in landscape mode, users see tabs in a persistent bar on the left-hand side of the screen that they can access with their left thumb while scrolling through Web content with their right hands.
In portrait mode, this tab bar becomes a menu item at the top of the screen.
Last week's blog post on Firefox mobile said Mozilla has optimized fonts and included interface elements and buttons, among other things, in the tablet version of the browser. It also promised further enhancements in the future.
Also, it said the mobile browser offers crisper text, faster rendering and less pixilation when zooming.
However, the post added that Firefox is better integrated into Android Gingerbread, which is the predecessor of Honeycomb, the first version of Android optimized for the tablet.
Yet another post in the Mozilla mobile blog said Firefox for Android adds support for developer tools.
It has a single-touch events application programming interface. This lets devs build Web experiences that detect touch events and gestures. Support for multitouch events will be added in future.
Another API is the IndexedDB API. This gives devs local database storage in Firefox so they can make Web apps and websites available offline.
Looking Back Darkly?
Why Gingerbread? Or is Mozilla supporting both Gingerbread and Honeycomb on tablets? Or could someone have made an error somewhere?
"I think that's very curious," Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.
"It could be that Gingerbread was easier to work with, they had greater access to it, or there were less patent liabilities around Gingerbread," Hazelton added.
Several companies, including Microsoft and Oracle, have filed patent suits against both Google and Android separately.
Where's Firefox Mobile Going?
Mozilla had previously offered a mobile version of Firefox, named \u201cFennec,\u201d for Windows Mobile.
However, the advent of Windows Phone 7 apparently killed off efforts in that direction, according to Fennec team member Alex Pakotin.
Mozilla unveiled Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo in March after putting it out in beta in October.
And, according to Mozilla's product vision statement, the organization will focus strongly on mobile devices, including capabilities such as multitouch, notification, 2D and 3D graphics, audio and video.
However, whether Mozilla will succeed in the mobile market is open to question.
"It's hard to claim that there's a vibrant third party market for mobile browsers," Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.
"Most smartphones come with browsers, and they are pretty good; even the BlackBerry now uses a Webkit-based browser, and it's pretty hard to dislodge the incumbents," Howe added.
"I don't see how Mozilla could be successful when it has a number of problems in mobile," the 451 Group's Hazelton stated.
"Mozilla haven't been able to get early approval of their mobile browser for iOS, and they haven't got a huge penetration in the Android market because users are not yet that picky about the browser," Hazelton explained.