The Mozilla foundation has recently announced that they intend to extend their web browser to allow it to run on mobile devices. I have to wonder about the opportunity they perceive. Outside the US there may well be a chance for a new browser to become popular on mobile devices.
Within the US however, the mobile operators wield so much control that it seems very unlikely the mobile browser could ever aspire to achieve the success the PC-based browser has. The path to that success for mobile devices is far more challenging.
On the PC, the mantra was “build it and they will come.” Since the Mozilla browser, which by now we all know as Firefox, was released, it has been downloaded several hundred million times. Certainly some of these downloads were a single user downloading it to multiple devices, or downloading upgrades and new releases. But the essential point is that the user had the freedom to install it wherever they wanted. There were few constraints on where it could be installed or how it could be used, and Mozilla was able to effectively target this audience.
In the mobile device space Mozilla should expect a far more difficult challenge. The audience to woo will not be the end user as it was with the PC. In that space it was enough to simply make a better browser available for download. “Build it and they will come.”
To get traction on mobile devices requires not only a decent browser, and note we said “decent” not “better”. “Decent” may be sufficient because this target audience has different requirements. The concerns of mobile operators and handset manufactures are much different that those of end users.
To get your browser accepted by the American mobile operators, it must prevent the user from downloading and running any software that might subvert their policies.
- making free VoIP calls,
- downloading free MP3 files,
- sharing pictures freely,
- sending free Instant Messages,
- viewing streaming video or listening to streaming music,
all of these must not be allowed by the new “Mobilla.”
But given the pre-existing relationships between the mobile operators and handset makers and exiting browser makers such as OpenWave, Opera, etc., who would give Mozilla the opening? What benefit might they perceive. I cannot imagine it, and believe it will prevent Mozilla from gaining serious traction. The operators will likely demand the new browser to break or disable many of the things that it has become famous for.
The only wildcard in this is the potential rise of unlocked Linux-based handsets. But some operator might just be loony enough to allow this to happen, and that could be the thin end of the wedge.
We wish Mozilla well.