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8/31/2011
05:44 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Mozilla Previews Firefox For Tablets

Mozilla steps up to challenges over its relevance with more than simply a large-screen adaptation of its smartphone app. But it should be doing more.

Mozilla has begun showing off its concept for Firefox on tablets, a project that builds on the mobile version of Firefox, and known while in development as Fennec--a variety of desert fox.

Mozilla is sharing its UI concepts because, as an open community-driven organization, that's the way it rolls.

Denied access to Apple's iOS devices for the sin of relying on the Gecko browser engine rather than WebKit, Firefox for tablets won't end up on the majority of the tablets in used the market today--Apple's iPad.

Instead, it's being imagined on Android 3.0+ tablets, at least those that make it past the International Trade Commission injunctions that Apple has been winning in its anti-Android patent cases.

Users of Firefox for mobile will see signature visual elements like the oversize back button and curved tabs. They may also appreciate differences in the way that Firefox handles user interface (UI) elements on tablets, where the large screen size makes it possible to present information more efficiently.

"On Firefox for phones, we meticulously tucked away all of our UI elements to free up the screen for unrestricted browsing," explains Ian Barlow, a member of Mozilla's mobile user experience team, in a blog post. "On a tablet, the bigger screen let us to bring some of those helpful elements back onto the screen, like tabs, for example. In landscape mode, tabs exist in a persistent left bar, allowing for quicker browsing."

But instead of showcasing visual innovations and previewing works in progress, Mozilla ought to be more focused on addressing the challenge to its relevance. Mozilla showcases a lot of interesting ideas and experiments, but in so doing it seems to be repeating the mistake of Google Labs: innovation without focus.

Mozilla made the browser matter again and for a time led desktop browser innovation. It continues to push the envelope with features like its Do Not Track implementation, but it has been overshadowed by what Google has been doing with Chrome and its Chrome Web Store, and by Apple's success promoting an ecosystem with no place for Firefox. And while the ultimate success or failure of Windows Phone 7 has yet to be determined, Firefox won't be on Microsoft mobile devices either.

Mozilla has recognized that it needs to think beyond the browser and has taken steps in this direction, through its own Web application initiative; though an attempt to join Google, Facebook, and others in the race to become the preferred online identity provider; and by pushing to make Web APIs competitive with native mobile APIs for hardware access.

But Mozilla needs to do more. If it can't find a legal argument to force its way onto closed mobile devices, then it might want buy WebOS from HP (or back Samsung's rumored interest in WebOS) and explore a partnership with a hardware maker to sell a more open phone and to develop an alternative to Google's Web ecosystem.

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