Firefox goes mobile!


Just a couple of days back I noticed a tweet in the twitter list of the availability of Firefox for Android and Maemo in its beta. I was excited that finally Firefox is available to the mobile community, not that it is the first time. It has been available for the Maemo users for quite some time. But it’s the android version that is exciting. The number of android users has been growing phenomenally, a reminiscent of the way Google came into the Internet. And the prospect of a super-cool browser like firefox being packaged for the android is very exciting. Sure people would argue the need of another browser when the stock one is doing a great job. But as Matt Brubeck elucidates, it would be nice if users are provided the choice and suit their needs.

The beta version of Firefox for mobile, aka Fennec, is now available here. Here I like to highlight some of the strong points what it offers and also the shortcoming and what they can do in the future versions.

The design is great. The idea was to give the entire screen for browsing. This is a feature of the android stock browser too. But what is not there in the latter is the easy availability of the other features. You swipe to the right and you get the left sidebar showing the open tabs and new tab button. It even has the option to recover the previously closed tabs. Handy isn’t it?

Then you swipe to the left and you get the right sidebar. It has a bookmark button, back and forward buttons, and the button to open the preferences. Now bookmarking is as easy as a swipe and a click. The preferences is also very neat showing all the normal browsing features, downloads and add-ons. Even the back and next buttons is something new to the mobile browser area, which very few browsers provide with such ease.

Lastly you swipe to get the top bar, also called the awesomebar, which when on click reveals the awesome screen. What the guys over at Mozilla have done is to make your browsing experience as close as it is on the desktop. It shows the home page, bookmarked pages, history, and also the pages visited in the desktop (comes when you give the Firefox sync details, more to follow).

With this, every feature is within a few touches. This eliminates the need to use the non-screen buttons, something I find it taxing while using other browsers. Moreover there is Firefox sync, a new feature added to the latest iteration of the desktop version of firefox. This allows you to access all the bookmarks, history, even automate the process of logging in to frequent sites as it even syncs the passwords (don’t worry, Mozilla is doing everything to keep your data confidential). Another big feature is the add-ons, which the stock browser doesn’t have. Yes it can make firefox sluggish, but add-ons gives one the freedom to do more than just browse pages. It’s something Firefox is very popular for, and Mozilla has added the very same to the mobile version too.

This is a beta version, so one can expect some flaws, right? Well, the fact that mobile firefox does not use WebKit, instead uses its own javascript engine has made this version very sluggish. Even on the Galaxy S, it takes a lot of time to get a page to load. However the performance is bound to improve in the course of time, guys over at Mozilla are working hard on it. They will also look to bring down the size of the installation file, which is currently at 11.8mb. The next beta is expected to showcase the new theme for the android version, so things are looking pretty bright here!

Another thing I like to point out is the Firefox sync. Personally I don’t like the idea of having to enter 2 passwords (actually one is a password, the other is a secret phrase). Someone like me who have a bad habit of forgetting passwords will have a hard time to remember these. I already had to change the secret phrase umpteenth time! I guess it would be ideal to give a choice for the users to link it with other accounts like Google or others, or this. That way it would be convenient for the users to use this features, especially ones like me.

In the end though, Mozilla has brought in a wonderful product, something every mobile user would cherish. Many things can happen in the happen in the future. I would like to see is multi-finger gesture other than the pinch-zoom (Oh did I not say that this has pinch zoom too?), like two finger swipe to reveal the sidebars instead of multiple swipes while browsing a large page (maybe even an expose-style to reveal the tabs open?). Also one can be happy with a loading bar that would appear on the awesomebar itself instead of just the usual loading circle (even the download notification can do with a little more notification). Anyways, with performance improvements, smaller installation size and a new theme, Firefox mobile will be a formidable entry into the mobile browsers arena.