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Mozilla: Firefox Mobile will kill off app stores

Firefox Mobile

By Barry Collins

Posted on 17 Dec 2009 at 07:30

Mozilla claims that its new Firefox Mobile browser could be the beginning of the end for the hugely popular app stores created by Apple and its ilk.

Mozilla is releasing the first version of Firefox Mobile (codenamed Fennec) on Nokia's N900 handset, with versions for Windows Mobile and Android set to arrive next year.

The foundation claims that Firefox Mobile will have the fastest Javascript engine of any mobile browser, allowing developers to create apps for the browser instead of creating multiple versions of the same app for different mobile OSes.

"Anyone who knows JavaScript and HTML can develop a great app without having to learn a specific mobile platform," Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile at Mozilla told PC Pro.

In the interim period, apps will be very successful. Over time, the web will win because it always does

Sullivan claims developers are frustrated by the difficulties of writing for multiple mobile platforms. "We look at the problems it creates for small innovators," he said. "You have to create an iPhone app, an Android app, a Windows Mobile app..."

"As developers get more frustrated with quality assurance, the amount of handsets they have to buy, whether their security updates will get past the iPhone approval process... I think they'll move to the web."

Sullivan says it will take time to wean developers away from the app store model, which has been heralded as one of the chief reasons for the iPhone's success. "In the interim period, apps will be very successful. Over time, the web will win because it always does."

Desktop features

Many of the features users have grown used to on Firefox's PC browser will be available in the mobile version. The Awesome Bar - which uses bookmarks and browsing history to auto-complete web addresses as users begin to type a website's URL or name - will appear in Firefox Mobile.

The mobile browser will be continually synchronised with the PC. "When you start typing [into the mobile browser], the website you went to on the desktop a week ago will just pop up," Sullivan said.

The synchronisation will extend beyond the Awesome Bar. "We will sync browser tabs in real time," Sullivan adds. "If you have five, 10, 20 tabs open on your PC and something happens and you have to leave, you can pick up where you left off on your phone."

Firefox Mobile will also support browser add-ons. "Some are existing add-ons for the PC, some are brand new," Sullivan claims.

Sullivan admits that features such as multiple tab support and add-ons will require Mozilla to carefully manage the browser's memory, so that it doesn't consume too much of the phone's limited resources. "We have to flush the memory more often [than on the desktop browser]," Sullivan said. "The goal is to create the feeling that we do for the desktop user."

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User comments

Didn't they say something similar about Java?

Something similar was said about Java many years ago. Its cross platform compatibility
meant other languages would become obsolete.

But Java's slower speed and lack of flexibility meant this just didn't happen.

By lack of flexibility I mean by trying to be platform neutral you are less able to make the best of each platforms strengths.

By cyberindie on 17 Dec 2009

Fennec? Try again...

I've been using Fennec on my htc Touch Pro (the officially supported development platform for Fennec on Windows Mobile) and it is a disaster, compared to Opera 9 and Opera 10 on the same device!

As to JavaScript and HTML: What when the 'phone doesn't have a connection or I am roaming?

Having worked as a web developer and a developer of "real" applications, I would plump for writing a real application every time, it is quicker and easier, for a start and you have much more control.

There are also a lot of apps on my iPhone which wouldn't translate well to a web based experience.

HTML and JavaScript have their place, but they aren't a universal panacea for creating portable applications - at least not in their current form (and by that I mean HTML 5, which none of the browsers fully support anyway).

By big_D on 17 Dec 2009

Been tried hasn't it?

Didn't the iPhone/iPod Touch originally only support web-based apps? If I recall correctly, Apple introduced the app-store because developers didn't want to code web-apps.

I'm pretty sure my Touch still has web-apps as one of the built-in favourites in Safari.

By alynsparkes on 17 Dec 2009

Holy Grail -Not!

20 or so years ago, one of the industry buzz-acronyms was ANDF (Architecture Neutral Distribution Format), before that C was supposed to be portable and after we had Java. None have taken over the world and neither will Javascript / HTML or Flash.
With the power of modern processors, there is a lot that can be done at sensible speed with an interpretive language, but it's also easy to write bad Javascript -even Google do it.
It's interesting that Firefox is telling the same story as Google -perhaps a case of "if you can't beat them -join them".

By milliganp on 17 Dec 2009

It's not going to kill of Apple's app store because they aren't going to let people install it on their iPhones. The iPhone already has a web browser on it so Fennec will immediately fail the approval process.

By peterm2k on 17 Dec 2009


Compared to other mobile web browsers, with the exception of Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile, Fennec is already full of fail.

There is no way it could compete with Safari or Chrome in its current form.

Milliganp - exactly. Mozilla joining Google? They don't exactly have a choice, they are a browser maker, so they have to say that everything will go web (and hope it does).

By big_D on 17 Dec 2009

Bold claim...

...But ultimately wildly optimistic until people can get a 3G signal all the time, any time.

By ralphuk100 on 17 Dec 2009

mind you...

The fennec browser supports google docs....
which is something googles own android native browser fails to do....
after 18 months of waiting....

By darkhairedlord on 17 Dec 2009

Pity it only supports a few handsets

Windows Mobile and the new Nokia Maemo which as yet is only on one phone. I suppose they are looking to the future but surely they need to be looking at an android version? I am bitter because

By windywoo on 18 Dec 2009

Mozilla is losing it.

With competition from Google's Chrome and its lack of status in the mobile web browsing world (dominated by WebKit browsers), Mozilla is losing relevance in this post-Chrome, post-iPhone world. Their execs have been blabbing nonsense the past two months, trying to defend Mozilla's relevance. What they said about Firefox Mobile killing off app stores is the latest in their series of groundless hyperbole.

By jackfeed on 18 Dec 2009


To complete what I thought I finished, I am bitter because I have a Nokia 5800 which is great for surfing the net. I would have loved to see how Firefox compared to Opera on my phone.

By windywoo on 18 Dec 2009

There are other alternatives

Having a decent quality browser on a mobile phone is all well and good, and you can do lots with web-apps, but native coding produces the speediest and slickest applications on your device.

Are you aware that there is another answer to the issue of coding to multiple phone platforms, other than a browser?

The answer is a platform-independent SDK. Ideaworks Labs has been working on such a solution for years, and has just made their Airplay SDK 4.0 available for public evaluation.

With Airplay SDK a developer codes in native C++ and then builds the application for all supported platforms, including iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Maemo and others. Cool, eh?

By tiger999 on 18 Dec 2009

Re: Didn't they say something similar about Java?


"Something similar was said about Java many years ago. Its cross platform compatibility
meant other languages would become obsolete."

Yeah, but the web won't make other languages obsolete. Most apps will just be on the web.

Think about it. What apps do you use most of the time? I'm guessing web apps, even today!

The web is very flexible, and development is super fast and cheap compared to Java.

By PrtScr on 19 Dec 2009

Re: Holy Grail -Not!


"None have taken over the world and neither will Javascript / HTML or Flash."

The web has already taken over the web. Most of your apps are probably web apps even today.

"It's interesting that Firefox is telling the same story as Google -perhaps a case of "if you can't beat them -join them"."

Or rather, they see where the market is headed.

By PrtScr on 19 Dec 2009


The apps I use most?

Outlook or Apple Mail (depending on which machine I'm on), Word, Excel, Navision, Tweetdeck, Trillian...

I don't use any web apps. I use the web browser for research and forums, but that's about it.

I sync most of my important data on servers or in the cloud, but I don't tend to use web apps.

I use MobileMe, it has a web front end, but I either use Outlook, Mail/Address Book/Calendar or my iPhone ot update it.

I use Twitter, a lot, but I use TweetDeck to look at it, the browser experience is horrible in comparison.

I haven't yet found a webapp that has made me gasp and want to drop a client app for it...

By big_D on 21 Dec 2009

Blinkered and self-serving approaches like this are not in the consumer's interest

This type of statement is another great demonstration of the old adage, that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Browser vendors want us to move all apps to web, where they must be presented through a browser, preferably theirs. Web service providers want the same, for similar reasons.

Ultimately though, the Internet is much bigger than just a single protocol, and forcing all data to be channeled through port 80 and parsed as html code, whatever the requirement, misses the point. There's often going going to be better ways of doing things, and these should be on the menu (although it's often nice to have a web-based fallback).

The argument here isn't over whether a cloud-based approach to information storage and delivery is beneficial - that argument is long gone. Having a central virtual store of all my information that I can access and modify from all of my devices, anywhere, is wonderful and liberating. But limiting how we approach and manage that data store, to just one single method (and mouthing platitudes like "the web will win because it always does"), will aim us down a technological cul-de-sac that we'll regret in the long run.

Over three billion apps have been downloaded on iPhone so far, and that device already *has* a permanently-connected, high-quality browser. Consumers have spoken. Time for the service providers and software vendors to listen.

By grellanl on 20 Jan 2010

Not gonna happen any time soon!

Mozilla is not currently developing a version for the iPhone. Even if they started, their journey (or chance) to get onto iTunes will be a long and hard one.

By Erixun on 14 Apr 2010

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