Firefox will be eat’n alive by Opera and the iPhone

Posted by March 14, 2007

Many carrying a desktop computer around his neck as if it’s a mobile device OR iPhone displaying a Web site

Which of these two images do you think will come true in the coming 12 to 24 months? In short, Mozilla are of the opinion that the first picture is a more likely outcome. However, I, alongside companies such as Apple, Nokia and Vodafone Group believe that the mobile web is soon to be a reality (or at the very least, more real). What do you think?

I was astonished to read (on Dan’s blog) that Mozilla doesn’t think users want to access the Web on mobile devices. Hence my picture above of what Mozilla must have in mind when it comes to the Web on the move, anytime, anywhere.

Dan was commentating on the Browser Panel at SXSW which was run by Arun from AOL (a colleague of mine from the W3C MWI). My buddy Charles from Opera took part too.

Brendan Eich, CTO of Mozilla is the reason for this post though. According to Dan, Brendan said

I don’t believe people are going to browse the Web on their phone. I don’t believe people want to use Wikipedia from their phone.

I’m absolutely amazed by Brendan’s view and I sincerely hope it’s his personal view and not Mozilla’s. Otherwise this $300m business faces the prospect of ending up in the bin alongside it’s parent, Netscape. For a guy who’s incredibly smart working for an organisation that has gained a market share of 10% to 12% of desktop browsers within 2 years, his comments are a little surprising to say the least. Brendan’s comments in my opinion, lack vision. Hell, they lack logic.

I couldn’t disagree more with Brendan. There are more people in the world who don’t have access to the Web than there are people who do. Of those people, most of them are in developing countries. The vast majority of them are extremely likely to use a mobile devices as their primary access point to the Web as it’s more difficult and more expensive to roll out fix lined networks than it is mobile.

Google announced some statistics recently that back up my view. BANGALORE, India (AFP) – Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist Vinton G. Cerf has predicted that mobile phones, not personal computers, will fuel growth of the worldwide web as countries like India snap up millions of handsets monthly.

From 50 million in 1997, the number of people who have logged onto the Internet has exploded to nearly 1.1 billion, Cerf, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the Internet, said Tuesday.

Yet, the Internet only reaches a sixth of the world’s population, Cerf told reporters during a visit to this southern city, known as India’s Silicon Valley, where Google has a research and development facility.

Worldwide there are 2.5 billion mobile-phone users, whose numbers are growing rapidly in developing countries led by China and India, the world’s most populous countries, Cerf said in his presentation.

India, a country of 1.1 billion people, alone is adding seven million mobile-phone users a month, a powerful enough lure for British telecom giant Vodafone to pay 11.1 billion dollars for a controlling stake in local mobile firm Hutch-Essar this month. Read the original new article.

I feel so strongly about helping to bring the Web to more people, irrespective of their disability, location or hardware, I decided to become a founding sponsor of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative (MWI). One of the goals of the MWI is to create best practice guidelines to help developers build Web sites that will work on desktop computers, but importantly, work better on mobile devices too.

Other founding sponsors include Vodafone Group, Nokia, HP, Opera, MobileAware, ftgroup and Volantis. Other active participants within the initiative include companies such as AOL, .mobi, Google and Telefonica.

The mobile web is a hot topic and there’s always room for disagreement. However, I’m still amazed to hear the fastest growing desktop browser say that it doesn’t think people will want to use a mobile to browse the Web. Perhaps they should have a chat with Apple as they have a knack for creating technology to make content consumption extremely easy.

Half way through writing this post I checked my mail to find a note from a close friend. Ian from Glaxstar asked if Brendan’s comments were perhaps taken out of context. In short, I don’t know. I can only go by Dan’s commentary which I take as trustworthy knowing Dan as well as I do – he’s a well respected individual within the Mobile industry. That said, Mozilla is working on Mini Mo according to Ian…

Thanks to Keith Waters (France Telecom) for the picture (with man) above.

  1. On May 30th, 2007, Brendan Eich said...

    Dan paraphrased me, he didn’t quote me word for word. You parrot him at your peril.
    I have a fat smart phone. I browse the web on it. Mozilla has the minimo project, which has tens of thousands of users. They do likwise. So what?
    My point is simple: most phone users do not sit, think, surf, type, edit, review, and post. They find maps, pizza, twitter updates, etc. etc.
    The phone is not the desktop. Doesn’t mean it should not support web standards. Does mean desktop browsers may not give a damn about Dan’s w3c pay-for-play compound document format stuff, which is far from the holy writ blogs like this make out.
    The mobile web, assuming it’s just the web we all know and love, will succeed *in spite of*, not *because of*, the kind of special-pleading and inaccurate quoting you are practicing.

  2. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Walsh said...

    Hi Brendan – thanks for stopping by to provide your account of the conversation. I must admit that I was surprised to hear Mozilla would make such comments. Although, it wouldn’t have been t_h_a_t surprising given the comments I hear from equally impressive organisations at seminars that I’ve presented at. They simply have a different view to me.
    I was happy to quote Dan of all people. If you know him, you’ll also know that he’s an extremely well respected member of the mobile community with a great vision of what the Web will probably look like on mobile. He’s founder of Mobile Monday, founder of Mobile 2.0, Chair of the W3C MWI BP group and importantly, a senior strategist at Voda Group. So, he doesn’t walk on water and some opinions aren’t more equal than others, but I trust his unbiased commentating. I also believe in soliciting the opinion of people I talk about – hence why I asked Ian Hayward (good friend of mine and known to you) to kindly ask if you would stop by. I’m delighted you did!
    I agree and disagree with your view. In fact, I think too many people are making assumptions about what users want when it comes to the mobile web. The answer is, none of us know for sure. If we were talking about people who travel from Slough to London, I’d expect them to use a mobile for twitter. However, as technology improves at such an accelerated rate along with other stake holders making improvements (of which MWI is just one), I can only see more of the desktop coming to mobile – at least that’s what Nokia and Apple are saying too.
    Some users do sit, think, surf, type, edit, review, and post. Moreover, I see this trend moving up. Perhaps you’re basing your opinion on current US trends? The US market is way behind Europe where mobile data consumption is concerned. We will all fall behind developing countries in the near future.
    I’m pretty confident that Firefox could be a serious competitor for Opera mini. Firefox is my favourite browser – heck, my company has an extension that demonstrates how future search could work. So, I’m behind Mozilla 100% and I hope it realises the full potential of delivering a proper Web experience on mobile devices.

  3. On May 30th, 2007, Tom Raftery said...

    The mobile web, assuming it’s just the web we all know and love, will succeed *in spite of*, not *because of*, the kind of special-pleading and inaccurate quoting you are practicing.

    Wow! In one sentence you have suceeded in destroying the extremely positive impression I had of you!
    First off, why do you assume that the mobile web will be the “web we all know and love” – that is a very shortsighted view and secondly, you then attack the person who wrote this article.

  4. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Littlebury said...

    Well said Paul! Making assumptions on the user is a precarious position. I am finding it frankly bizarre of the prevalent opinions on industry blogs, that browsing the web on a mobile is not something the general public want. Where are they getting their statistics from? You cannot judge public opinion from asking them at this point in time if they would surf the web on their mobile. As with any technology, the public (I include myself here) would access the web on any device, as long as it’s appropriate and reasonably easy to use, and not porhibitively expensive. Obviously, on a traditionally sized screen, this is not practical. If someone asked me now, with my current handset, if I would surf the web on my phone, I would say no. But that is not a valid measure, as I would browse the web if I had a phone with a larger screen. And have done so, as last hadnset was Nokia e61, which was a pleasure to use for web surfing.
    With the surge of the Blackberry, and similar devices, surfing the web on your mobile with 3g speed is a reasonably pleasant experience. Its all about hardware and software meeting usability requirements – not a new idea, part of the standard software design principles. The user has been left at the bottom of the requirements pile the last few years. In my capacity in test management, I have noticed a downturn in this area. There needs to be a re-focus on the user experience within the technology community, rather than imposing our judgements and second-guessing what the public perception of technology is. Give people a toy, and they will play. How long they will play is down to the quality of the device, phone software, and website quality.
    It wasnt so long ago people were very sceptical of the idea of being able to check your emails on mobiles. Or further back, the scepticism of mobile phone themeselves. To deny the possibility of popularity mobile web browsing is nonsense, as it is an inevitable conclusion, and in keeping with the progressives moves in web standards. We are reaching a point where what device you are accessing the web from, shouldnt matter. This is not user problem, it is an industry problem, an industry which is used to dictating directions, and now discovering that maybe they could have been wrong in their market assumptions.
    The public will always fall for the hard-sell mobile marketing and stylish handsets. How they use those handsets is down to the quality of the software on the phone, the size/quality of the screen, and the quality of websites (their ability to display on different devices).

  5. On May 30th, 2007, Brendan Eich said...

    Paul Walsh: see Dan’s blog for some fresh comments from him to which I reply. We are not as far off from one another as some rabid bloggers want to represent.
    I’m curious why you think Firefox can compete with Opera Mini, though — Mini uses a proxy to transcode the web to fit in a very small J2ME client. It’s a cool approach, used for years by too. We’ve found it a hard sell to carriers, who don’t want to run proxy farms (but Opera runs the farm, I gather). Still, it’s not as if Firefox can be easily hollowed out into a proxy transcoder and a little J2ME client. Could be done; lot of work. Unclear whether Mozilla could host the proxy for carriers.
    Tom Rafferty: I attack misquoting of my words, yes. Get over it.
    Paul Littlebury: “How they use those handsets is down to the quality of the software on the phone, the size/quality of the screen, and the quality of websites (their ability to display on different devices).”
    Don’t forget input device bandwidth/pain — I know some fast Blackberry thumb typists, but they still go faster on desktops. My point at the panel was that the form factors and interaction designs differ enough between mobile and desktop that usage patterns differ significantly — and should.
    This is not to say web content formats should differ, of course. The issue that sparked this was Dan’s asking about when WICD would be supported in Firefox. I was skeptical of the value to Firefox’s almost entirely desktop user base.

  6. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Walsh said...

    Brendan – “I’m curious why you think Firefox can compete with Opera Mini, though”
    In short, you’re both browser vendors, so you’re competitors. I’m not being sarcastic of course, just articulating my thoughts. That said, with Opera’s market share at less than 2% on the desktop, you’re hardly competing and with Mozilla’s share of mobile at less than 1% you’re hardly competing there either.
    The way in which you serve content is irrelevant to users. Although, if you can improve on the bastardisation that Opera does currently to improve the user experience (which they need to do and do well), I’m all ears.
    Ok, so users aren’t going to download their choice of browser on mobiles for a long time to come. However, Opera mini is recognised within the mobile industry as the most compelling browser for mobile devices today.
    Mozilla revolutionised the desktop browsing experience whilst putting the shivers down Microsoft’s back (which I applaud). I wait and hope you can do the same on mobile…
    I’ve received numerous emails from companies showing their support for my post. I can only ask that they post their comments to the blog and not be afraid to have an opinion in public. Charles at Opera posted a comment on another blog of mine so I can say publicly that Opera share my thoughts. Ok, so they’re not great on the desktop but they’re doing something right on mobile – where the vast majority of new users are going to come from in the future.
    BTW, as one of the very first employees of AOL in Europe in 1995 coupled with decent mobile experience, I’d like to think I’m not at the end of the spectrum you place Dan in (re your comment on his blog). I consider myself impartial.

  7. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Walsh said...

    Brendan – reading your comment again on Dan’s blog, who are the idiots to which you refer?

  8. On May 30th, 2007, Brendan Eich said...

    Paul Walsh: sorry, idiots was harsh. I was reacting mainly to trolls on

  9. On May 30th, 2007, Brendan Eich said...

    I am sure that Chaals and Opera would view my comments with alarm, and as I wrote elsewhere, Mozilla and Opera are working together on several fronts. We don’t compete as much as some of the spreadfirefox vs. spreadopera fanboys make out.
    But my point remains: mobile is hard compared to desktop. Hence Flash Lite, WICD, SVG and many other would-be or de-factor standards that already have fragmented the mobile and non-mobile webs. I want to heal the rift, but I don’t buy the w3c memory-company-driven approach. It leaves out developers; it tends to make more and bigger standards than are strictly necessary. Just look at all the defunct ones!
    Mozilla is not forsaking mobile, but we do not plan to wedge Firefox in full on phat phones. We hope to use leverage, work smarter. Opera Mini is smart (so was, but again the proxy hosting is a problem.

  10. On May 30th, 2007, Brendan Eich said...

    Wow, typos. Need to get some coffee. Obviously I meant “member-company-driven”, not “memory-company-driven”. And “de-facto standards”. Yeesh. I’ll pipe down now for a while ;-).

  11. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Jacobson said...

    Well, he’s passionate about his stuff …

  12. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Walsh said...

    Brendan – thanks for the clarification and I’m sorry I was a little harsh with my commentary! Friends I’m delighted we had this discussion!
    Regarding your comment about the W3C MWI BPs (which I helped to write and now we’re going off topic), where do you think they lack clarity/feasibility/implementability?
    My take is that they’re for traditional desktop developers to help them better understand how to build sites that work on desktop computers as well as mobile devices. They’re not specifically for mobile application developers that you’d expect to find on WURFL.
    Further to this, I see the MWI as one actor on stage, other actors include browser vendors who need to standardise how they render content, handset vendors who need to improve the input methods and restrictive technology and operators who need to reduce tariffs and not hide the XHTML(blah) browser…
    So, I see MWI as a stepping stone in the right direction. It’s a bit like starting off with WCAG in 1995 with a light weight document with guidelines – i.e. much easier to digest and easier to implement than the slightly more bloated document in 1999 and the even more bloated WCAG 2.0 document currently being written.
    Also, the MWI has content adaptation, operators, vendors, search engines, content providers and standards compliance specialists involved – that’s just about everyone. OMA is involved and I own the relationship between GSMA and W3C (which is non-existent as the GSMA never got involved). So I’m not sure it addresses only the needs of its members. Naturally this is a perception that may need to be addressed…

  13. On May 30th, 2007, Paul Walsh said...

    Yikes! It amazes me how mobile web can draw you into making huge conversational comments.

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