I was delighted this morning to see that Fennec the project from Mozilla to put firefox on mobile devices has reached M7 (Milestone 7) and was ready for testing on my Nokia N810.
The N810 comes with a version of Firefox that is cut down and customised for the N810 so I figured that Fennec must be better than that for them to target the N810 - wrong very wrong!
If this Milestone is an indication of the way the project is going it is clear the project has some big problems.
Startup time was awful - mobile users have less time than desktop users and fast startup is essential - I got to the point I was questioning if I had started the browser or if it had crashed while loading - my estimate would be 20 seconds - 5 seconds is what I would want.
Once the app started it was no responsive and took a further 5 seconds to load the mozilla homepage (no search engine page yet). With a lack of a search page I needed to type in the url to find the site I wanted to visit - not so easy - to be innovative the UI is unlike any other browser - no address bar - the only thing in the UI I recognised was a reload button to the right of the page title.
I touched the upper window bar for that is the standard place to get an application menu on the N810 - nothing - so I opened the keyboard and pressed the menu button - suddenly the screen changed. I got a list of tabs on the left and some buttons on the right - not clear what the buttons did. One of the buttons was a plus sign - that looked interesting - I clicked and that then took me to the add-ons pages! So the most prominent button in the UI with a plus takes you to the add-ons pages - surely add-ons isn’t something people will want to do everyday? The add-ons locked up the system - I had to quit and restart. Eventually I found that if I clicked on the page title in the right way it would turn into an address bar - but the application became unresponsive again.
So I now have two versions of firefox on my N810 - one that has been stripped down, is fast and does everything I want (including support for Flash). This new one is bloated, slow and unresponsive - to the point that I never managed to get to a page I wanted.
OK it is a Milestone release - but my gut feeling is that they have taken the wrong approach to bring firefox to mobile devices and that it won’t get fixed until they review their goals. Mobile users need add-ons - but don’t have the memory, or processing power to just take desktop add-ons - they should have a cut down XUL for add-ons. I hope they look to the Maemo version of Firefox for inspiration - it has been around for at least two years and works very well - they need to better that - and they should do that by questioning why it works so well.
In most people’s minds there is already an open source mobile browser that is deployed on millions of phones and that is WebKit - it is on Nokia S60 phones, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android phones and it is available for Windows Mobile already.