Mobile Internet: What's Next for Firefox Mobile? Android?

When it comes to browsing the Web, smartphone owners have not had the same browser choices that desktop computer users enjoy. That might soon be changing for some platforms as open source browser vendor Mozilla ramps up its mobile Firefox efforts.

Firefox Mobile 1.0 is now officially available, though only for Nokia's Maemo platform, which runs on the Nokia N900 handheld device. However, Mozilla -- which has worked on Firefox Mobile under the codename Fennec since 2008 -- also said it's now working on Firefox Mobile for other smartphone platforms as well.

But don't expect to see Firefox on Apple's iPhone anytime soon.

"Nokia's Maemo platform is a promising emergent platform," Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile at Mozilla, told InternetNews.com. "We share open source values and Nokia has been part of the Mozilla community for a few years, making Maemo a good first platform for Firefox for mobile."

Sullivan added that the initial response so far from Nokia (NYSE: NOK) N900 users has been great, with thousands of active daily users.

Porting Firefox to the Maemo platform meant moving Firefox to a platform that has similarities with existing Firefox deployments. Sullivan noted that Maemo is very similar to the desktop Linux platform on which Firefox already ships.

"As such, much of the work for building Firefox for Maemo focused around the mobile user interface and touch-based interaction," Sullivan said.

With Maemo support now available, Mozilla developers are now turning their attention to developing Firefox for the Windows Mobile platform, which is currently in alpha testing. They're also working on a release for Android that's in the very early pre-alpha stages.

"We want to deliver the Firefox experience to every platform we can," Sullivan said. "If there are constraints on certain platforms, we will aim to deliver applications (like Weave) that bring key elements of the Firefox experience to those platforms." Mozilla Weave is a browser synchronization tool that is currently offered as an add-on for Firefox and is integrated with Firefox Mobile. With Weave, a mobile Internet user can synchronize the open tabs, bookmarks and history of their phone's browser with their desktop browser.

Firefox's mobile challenges and the iPhone

Still, there are a number of key challenges that Firefox Mobile developers will need to overcome in order to build their mobile Internet browser for Android and other platforms.

"We now have a solid UI that's been shipped with Firefox for Maemo, but the underlying Android platform is very different from Maemo," Sullivan said. "Other than the Linux kernel, Android shares very little with other desktop or embedded Linux platforms."

Sullivan added that Mozilla developers are working on a number of Android components including how to draw Web pages to the screen, and how to receive keyboard and touch input from the user.

"We are making sure with the work we are doing that we will be able to deliver a consistent and familiar experience with Firefox on mobile devices, much like we do on the desktop," Sullivan said.

For now, Mozilla does not have a particular timeline that it is targeting for a major milestone release of Firefox Mobile for Android.

The future is even less certain when it comes to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone. Mozilla not only has no timeline for developing for the popular device, it also has no plans a Firefox edition for the iPhone at all.

"Apple's SDK terms and conditions for the App Store prohibit a third-party application that includes a language interpreter," Sullivan said. "This essentially means you can't have another browser that runs JavaScript. That said, we continue to investigate ways we can deliver parts of the Firefox experience to users who want it, regardless of device or platform."

The Firefox Mobile browser, regardless of the platform that it run on, is closely related to Mozilla efforts with its desktop Firefox browser. Mozilla recently released Firefox 3.6, its latest browser release. The update improved speed and added new features.

"Firefox for mobile will always be closely aligned with the desktop browser because it is built on the same engine and provides the most modern browser engine available," Sullivan said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Firefox, Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, mobile Internet