I’ve been a big proponent of Mozilla’s Firefox and unlike many others, never made the jump to Chrome. Aside from some very cool recent innovations on the desktop side (e.g., Firefox Panorama), Firefox Mobile for Android has just moved from alpha to beta.
Having used the new beta on my Nexus One (see my brief video below), it’s exceptionally more stable than the previous alpha builds. Although there are still some issues with over-responsive navigation controls, it’s getting closer to being ready for prime time use. What really excites me about the new beta though, is that there are hints that Firefox’s vision of mobile browsing just might offer the best experience available.
That conclusion comes from trying nearly every standard or third-party browser across various mobile devices and platforms. For example, on iOS, Safari’s severely crippled with the maximum pages that can be opened, no download support, and most importantly, not allowing the content of the page to be the focus. That’s especially true on the iPad, where the URL bar and navigation controls are always present. It’s why I often will use third-party browsers like iCab Mobile or Grazing, which offer these other features.
What’s different about Firefox Mobile for Android? Aside from the myriad of reasons Mozilla engineer Matt Brubeck details, he and his colleagues have created a mobile browsing experience that most successfully overcomes the major challenge when designing for a mobile device: limited screen real estate. This challenge is really twofold. The first aspect was alluded to above, which is to the keep the content front and center. The second is less obvious and can even result from smartly approach the first: not burying navigation controls.
I initially saw Mozilla’s navigation concept when I demoed what was then called “Fennec” on a simulator well over a year ago. Reviewing my notes from that time, I wasn’t convinced of their paradigm, which consists of swiping right or left to access tabs and page back/forward. I liked the maximized screen real estate but it seemed the implementation of the navigation was too slow and did not provide for an easy enough way to get back and forth between web pages. I can safely write that they’ve now delivered on their original concept.
While this version of Firefox is initially only available on Android and the Nokia N900, I’d really be interested to see this run on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab. Further, with Apple’s loosening of App Store restrictions, let’s get Firefox onto iOS already!
Kudos to the Mozilla team. As I concluded in my video, Firefox Mobile is a most welcome addition to any Android device.