Mozilla yesterday announced the roadmap for its Firefox Home app, essentially a crippled version of Firefox that was born because of the strict playground rules of Apple's
Of course, when we are simply talking about Firefox and the iPhone and their potentially symbiotic relationship, then we are leaving the user out of the equation. If there is someone losing in this game, then it is the user, given the fact that Mozilla has Fennec 2.0 in the works, arguably the most advanced mobile browser today. But Firefox on the iPhone is not really up to the user as Apple's philosophy is not about what a user might want. It is about what Apple wants, and the chance that users will want it as well.
For any company that is dealing with Apple, that means a great deal of opportunity, but also uncertainty, and for someone with as little resources as Mozilla, working with Apple always implies a little risk. In the case of Firefox, it may be best to stay away from the iPhone. In fact, Firefox Home may cause enough headaches by itself. Here's why.
Another browser for the iPhone is a waste of time
Let's be realistic. The iPhone already has a decent version of Safari that does web browsing very well -- as far as the iPhone and Apple's idea of viewing web content is concerned. If you don't like it, you can use a version of Opera. However, we have seen so many times that Apple really hates competition on its own platform and will do whatever it can to avoid direct comparison, which automatically creates an uneven playing field. Mozilla does not have the resources to sustain a competitive web browser in the long term for this platform.
The future of the web browser will be determined more and more by integration with other platforms and cloud features. Opera for the iPhone is an interesting option right now, but as mobile platforms evolve and bond with operating systems, Opera may see a growing disadvantage on the iPhone platform and retract in the end. Opera and Mozilla would need an open platform to compete, and that is clearly not the case with the iPhone.
Firefox Home is good enough
Seriously, as far as the iPhone is concerned, and what Mozilla needs, Firefox Home is good enough. On the other side, it may be exactly what Apple will have to live with. You can bring your bookmarks and other simple data with you and then simply use the iPhone browser to access your information. The only time you could be ticked off is when you were looking at Flash on another platform and the Jobsters at Apple tell you can't do that on the iPhone.
Down the road, you will be able to bring along your passwords, search engine preferences, Panorama tab settings, and some experimental features. You will also be able to directly access Twitter and Facebook from Firefox Home. What else could you want?
Skip the silly app approval process
Is it just me, or is it extremely annoying that a company like Mozilla has to wait for Apple's generous approval to be able to offer an app for the iPhone/iPad? Is it silly that we all are jumping up and down in joy just because Apple has approved an app that should have been available immediately anyway?
I understand. There are, at of the time of this writing, 267,919 apps for the iPhone/iPad available, and Apple approves about 563 apps a day. Given its walled garden approach, it is quite a number that is tested and confirmed to be following Apple's strict rules every day. I understand that Apple wants to enforce certain guidelines to keep the order in its App Store. But it is a growing burden for many app developers, especially since the average revenues per app often do not justify this painful process anymore. And Mozilla certainly does not need to be advised on what works for the iPhone and what doesn't.
Apple, in cases like Mozilla, a general approval would make app development much more enticing for some, and the entire platform would benefit from such a move.
Market Share: The focus is somewhere else
The iPhone may have revolutionized the smartphone space, but it seems that Apple may be seeing its second Windows experience with Android. In the U.S., Google's
Android is the way to go for Mozilla. And if it can support Symbian and Blackberry -- Firefox Home is promised to come to these platforms in the coming months -- then Mozilla is in good shape.
Mozilla needs to be selfish
The rapid development in smartphones, operating systems and cloud computing means decision time for Mozilla. Where does Firefox fit, once Google integrates Chrome/Chrome OS, Microsoft integrates Windows/IE, and Apple its own Safari much deeper with iOS? Mozilla's opportunity is in cloud computing, and there is the simple reality that it might be too small to compete. Just yesterday, Google received a patent to synchronize certain web browser data, which may not affect Mozilla due to its friendly relationship with Google right now, but it may affect Apple and Microsoft.
The stage for integrated cloud computing is being set, and Mozilla needs to find its place, which could be potentially its own phone, but it does need to be more aggressive in its business approach and carve out its opportunity -- now. Simply offering a good browser may no longer be enough within a year or two.
The future of Mozilla does not depend on the iPhone. It depends on a capable application model that not only provides a browser, but a platform model that provides unique features that are appealing to users. Those features are unlikely to be technologically possible on the iPhone. They may be on Android, or they may be on its own interpretation of an application environment that leverages Firefox as its interface.
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