The mobile browser war has been waging on with recent releases from the likes of Mozilla, Opera and Skyfire. And while each has been keeping up with functionality and developments in their own right, last week the contender likeliest to come out on top stepped onto the battle field and got blown to bits.
What we’re referring to, of course, is Mozilla’s pre-alpha release of Firefox Mobile, a.k.a. Fennec. The early test version was made available to HTC Touch Pro, but to the dismay of many an excited mobile enthusiast, wouldn’t load any Web pages.
How It Went Down
Picture this: Eager testers downloaded what was reported to be Mozilla's milestone release onto their HTCs and started it up. Just as their eyes began to widen in anticipation of a fancy welcome or startup message, a checkered screen appeared instead. And it stayed that way. Frantic testers scrolled up and left, entered URLs, but no dice.
Wrote PCMag.com's columnist Sascha Segan, "If this is a milestone, it's marking a pit stop. Better luck next time, Mozilla folks."
Mozilla Mobile team member Mark Finkle tried to clear up some of the confusion by claiming that the problem appears to be memory-related. Windows Mobile devices have some restrictions around memory use and that's what he says his team is now trying to work around. But obviously they haven’t quite figured it out yet. On Mark’s blog he writes, "When we figure out the true cause and get a solution in place, we’ll be sure to blog the details." That’s…comforting?
Unsurprisingly, the Web-verse is not happy. Following Segan’s comment was a slew of similar jabs at Mozilla. Chris Keall of The National Business Review says, “Mozilla does mobile – but this fox is a dog”. Other publications have called the mishap a “showstopper”.
Don’t Judge a Mobile Browser By Its Desktop Success
Mozilla has struggled for years to get a working browser to the mobile market. Remember Minimo? In 2004 the project was promising enough to attract Nokia's pocketbook. The effort slowly fizzled, however, and in late 2007 Mozilla said it would discontinue work on Minimo and focus on a new effort that became known as their newest failure, Fennec.
Mozilla also spent some time developing a lesser known project called Joey, which let users clip and save text, photos and videos while using a PC, and then access that content through a browser on a cell phone. That too died out after about a year and is no longer supported.
Meanwhile, it's been all good in the 'hood for other mobile browsers. To the surprise of, well, nobody, Apple raised the mobile browsing bar with its version of Safari on the iPhone. The browser displays Web pages just as they appear on a computer and lets users zoom in to read sections. Microsoft reportedly has it in the works to offer an updated version of IE Mobile that similarly makes it easy for users to zoom in on Web pages.
And let's not forget about Opera, who burst onto the mobile scene somethin' fierce with Opera Mini, now being used on millions of devices worldwide. Newcomer Skyfire has also made some recent headway with their mobile offering. The newest version of their browser features a Friendfeed-like start portal and delivers news from RSS sources as well as updates from Facebook and Twitter.
In all fairness, Mozilla's release is pre-beta, which means they're allowed some mistakes. We don't think anyone anticipated a goof this huge, however, and perhaps a result will be the realization that big names don't always equal good products.