Firefox Mobile Add-ons: Extensions to Rule Them All
Earlier on the cell phone plans blog, we discussed the problems of fragmentation in the mobile world. Heated competition among operating systems as well as disparity in OS versions makes life hard for software developers when choosing which platform to support. But now that Mozilla is entering the mobile space with its first ever Firefox browser for Mobile (can evolution of the Windows Mobile browser “Fennec”), the mobile world might get some much needed unity. The game-changer: Firefox Mobile Add-ons.
If you’re one of the 330 million using Firefox on your computer (that’s a 25% marketshare) you know just how powerful Firefox Add-ons can be. In a classic case of convergence, Mozilla Firefox’s ability to add extensions, scripts and integrated toolbars and applications transformed it into so much more than a browser. With the right plugins, your Firefox browser can do it all – FTP, Internet radio, website creation, connect to Facebook and other social media, to-do lists and calendars – you name it. When it comes to mobile phones, there’s always “There’s an app for that.” For web browsing, there’s a Firefox add-on for that.
The End of “There’s an App for that?”
Speaking of apps, there’s a reason why there’s an app for just about everything. The vast majority of mobile apps simply replicate what you would normally do from your web browser on your PC or Mac. Google Maps, UrbanSpoon, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, instant messaging and chat – these are all web-enabled features that work just fine on a computer, but need a little help when it comes to pulling it up on your mobile browser. That’s because mobile browsers – while admittedly far better than the hideous WAP browsers – are still somewhat primitive. They can’t handle Flash, the resolution is low (due to the tiny screen) and they aren’t amazing at handling multimedia and complex functionality. So, essentially, whenever they say “there’s an app for that” it’s just another way of saying “Safari can’t handle that yet.”
From Fragmentation to Convergence
All browsers are bound to improve in the coming years – but Firefox’s add-ons are going to make a huge difference. That’s because developers won’t have to worry about catering to Android 1.5 or Android 1.6 or spinning a new version for webOS – all they’ll have to do is make sure their program runs in Firefox’s environment. In a sense, Firefox Mobile will be kind of an operating system within an operating system. The convergence we saw in the desktop version of Firefox could very well become a reality for mobile phones. Firefox Mobile might be the place you go to for all the functions you used to have an app for. And because it’s a mobile browser, the add-ons will be able to tap into anything that Firefox Mobile can, including geo-location, accelerometer and camera functions.
With that being said, Mozilla has no designs towards being an “app store killer.” Mozilla’s Jay Sullivan confirmed Firefox’s impact on app developers in a BBC interview, saying “Currently, it’s really hard for a developer – you have to develop for each app store,” but with Firefox, “you can write it once and it works everywhere.” With that being said, he stated that he believed apps and Firefox add-ons would “co-exist” rather than have one replace the other.
As consumers, this kind of co-existence is bound to benefit us. With Google’s Android phones shaking up the mobile OS world, there are more platforms than ever to choose from, all of which are tied to worthy phones. You can get the Palm Pre with webOS, a Blackberry Storm with the BlackBerry OS, the LG Expo with Windows Mobile 6.5 or the iPhone and you’ll be getting top-notch smartphone hardware but with widely varying operating systems. With Firefox Mobile, there will at least be a connective thread between all of them.
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