Sometimes, ingenious solutions to your problems may be rather simple. In Mozilla's case, there is no easy fix for getting out of a trap in the browser market, but there has been an unexpected thought of building a smartphone that may not be a dumb idea. It's a breath of fresh air in a market that is eaten up by the silly idea that we need hundreds of iPhone replicas. Mozilla has outlined the first device we could comfortably call a superphone and a device that can replace notebooks and possibly desktops.
Seabird appears to be rather accidental. It has been published as an idea by Mozilla Labs community member Billy May, and Mozilla was quick to point out that it is just an imaginary device, the result of someone imagining a smartphone. But the feedback to Seabird was phenomenal. Mozilla should be thinking about hiring May and get to work building the phone with a partner (HTC, Motorola, anyone?).
Why would Mozilla want to build a phone?
Mozilla isn't a hardware company. It does not have the resources to go into a market that has gorillas battling over market share. Google
However, it is decision time at Mozilla. It has lost its lead in the browser market as far as the most capable browser is concerned. Microsoft has a very strong IE9 in preparation, Google's Chrome is the trendsetter these days. It is unlikely that Firefox will be able to gain market share, and with Chrome becoming more popular, it may even see a shrinking market share and less ad revenues as a result. Mozilla needs new ideas to break out of the trap in the desktop browser market.
One solution may be a mobile browser, which is, without doubt, the path into the future, and Mozilla has the lead in this space at this time. Fennec 2.0 is due as a beta this month and is generally believed to be the best smartphone browser today once it surfaces. But Mozilla has no way to promote Fennec. It will be tough to gain market share on the iPhone, Android, and Microsoft's WP7.
If Mozilla had its own smartphone, it would be an entirely different story. Mobile browsers show the way to cloud computing and highlight the way we will be browsing the web in the future. It's the web's future. It's Mozilla's future. A smartphone that leverages Fennec and Mozilla's cloud-computing strategy could be crucial to the company's survival.
The iPhone is yesterday
What is so striking about May's vision is that the phone is not an iPhone killer as we understand it today. It does not play catch up and it does not attempt to surpass it in its feature set. Seabird is an entirely different device that may be years away from being technologically possible, but there is little doubt in our mind that this is what we generally refer to as a superphone and a device that could replace the iPhone as the trendsetting mobile device.
May has not outlined many details, but the simple idea to integrate two pico-projectors, one serving as the source of a light-based keyboard and the other one as a projector to enlarge the phone screen is something I'd like to be using today. An integrated headset that serves as 3-D mouse is another great idea. Suddenly, your phone could be your desktop computer, your notebook and your cell phone. Of course, these are ideas in the playground of a product designer. There is no detail on how this idea could be translated into reality. How much processing power does it take? How long would the battery last?
In any case, the iPhone suddenly looks so yesterday. Mozilla may have given away its best asset in years -- the idea for this phone. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to keep Seabird under wraps and consider the development of the phone, perhaps in a partnership with a big manufacturer? We have no doubt that this is the future of mobile computing devices.
Mozilla has not talked much about services (we are not talking about software here.) It will be crucial to the success of such a device how cloud service will be integrated. Mozilla would not need its own operating system, it could begin with Android and build its own cloud services around it. Imagine a full application suite built on the open web idea, in a world where web sites become services and applications. Down the road, a basic OS would suffice and Firefox could become the enabler and interface of web applications.
All or nothing: Build it!
If there has been any doubt about what we think, we believe that Mozilla should seriously thinking about building Seabird. We understand that it is a massive task, and that it is out of Mozilla's comfort zone and carries a huge risk. But the opportunity is striking. Hey, if Facebook can be building a smartphone, why can't Mozilla?
If Mozilla does not build this phone, someone else will. Perhaps Microsoft should be having a closer look at this idea as well. Maybe it is Seabird that can save WP7.
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