Mozilla has announced the new beta version of Firefox 4 Mobile is available for download on both Maemo and Android phones. The last version was a little rough, and the developers claim to have taken user suggestions to heart in this release. Among the improvements are a much reduced install size on Android devices (17MB instead of 43MB), improved text rendering, and lower memory usage. The app also supports app2sd storage on Froyo phones.
With features like slide out toolbars, Firefox Sync, and future hardware acceleration, Firefox Mobile could really be a great browser upon completion. If you have an N900, or high-end Android phone, check out the beta.
Mozilla has announced today that the first alpha release of Fennec (mobile Firefox) is ready for mass consumption on the N900, and Android 2.0+. The N900 version has already been posted on the Mozilla site, we expect the Android version to be up soon. One of the main selling points is full Fennec integration with Firefox Sync, a tool that can keep your tabs, history, and bookmarks synchronized across your devices.
Mozilla has been working to make the browser smoother, which is great news to anyone who tried the previous early preview builds. Fennec does this by keeping the browser UI in a separate process from the rendering engine. Actions like scrolling and zooming should get more fluid as the product moves toward a final release.
Mozilla has posted a vide demo of Fennec on Android. While it is looking much improved, they clearly have a way to go. This whole time, Google is improving the Android browser. By the time Fennec is done, it may have already been surpassed in features. Are you anxiously anticipating Fennec?
Mozilla points to the frustration developers experience trying to get their applications onto multiple platforms. They hope Fennec will put an end to that by making web apps the standard. The Firefox creators are hoping to position the new browser to take advantage of the future of web apps, which they claim will win. But didn’t we hear this when the iPhone launched? Apparently Mozilla thinks it will be different this time around.
Mozilla is baking all sorts of goodies into the new mobile browser to try to get mobile users to make the switch. There will be a mobile version of the “Awesomebar” as well as extension support. Current Firefox users will also be able to have their history and tabs sync down to the mobile device. The browser will be out the N900 soon (betas are available now), and on Windows Mobile and Android early next year. The iPhone? Probably not.
Last week, Google rolled out a native development kit for Android developers. Developers can now create Android apps using native-code languages such as C and C++. Prior to the release of the Android Native Development Kit, applications for the platform could only be written in Java and run using Google’s Dalvik Java virtual machine.
"Developers are taking a look at the NDK to see if it provides the capabilities we need to bring Fennec to Android. If it's possible, I think our community would be interested in doing it, because Android will be appearing on more smartphones with the capabilities to provide a good browsing experience," Mozilla’s VP of mobile Jay Sullivan said.
Although running software natively can aid performance, there are other factors to offset that advantage. "Your application will be more complicated, have reduced compatibility, have no access to framework APIs, and be harder to debug,” Android engineer David Turner warned in a blog post announcing the release of the NDK.
Mozilla’s beta for Fennec (also known as Firefox Mobile) went into its early beta stages just this week.
Currently Fennec supports only the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet (running OS2008), as well as Windows, Mac OS X (so long as you have an Intel processor) and Linux. Sadly, it doesn’t appear as if there are any versions for the iPhone and Blackberry users of the world just yet.
According to Fennec’s release notes, “The initial focus of Fennec development was on building a new user experience that reflects Firefox's design principles, adding touch screen support and other interactions appropriate for mobile phones and other handheld devices, while preserving leading features like the Smart URL Bar (‘awesome bar’) and support for add-ons.”
Have you had a chance to give it a try? Hit the jump and let us know what you think!
Outside of mobile Safari, and perhaps to a lesser extent Opera Mini, the mobile browser experience can be somewhat unsatisfying. Poor page rendering, or completely unusable interfaces seem to plague the mobile experience. That’s where Mozilla has seen an opportunity to expand its browser platform, and a market that is still relatively untapped. With the launch of Fennec Alpha 2, Mozilla is one step closer to its goal of a mobile Firefox. Alpha 2 seems to address many of the performance issues that hindered the previous version, and these complaints were clearly acknowledged in a blog posting by Mozilla’s Mark Finkle.
“While we focused much of the previous alpha on getting the user experience how we wanted, we’ve spent much of the time since focused on improving performance. We’ve made major strides improving startup performance, panning and zooming performance, and responsiveness while pages are loading.”
My somewhat unscientific testing seems to backup these claims and performance has defiantly improved. Currently support is limited to Nokia's Maemo based N800 and N810, but compatibility with Windows Mobile and Symbian is apparently well underway. These platforms could defiantly use a bit more choice when it comes to browsers, and many are hoping it will finally give the power enjoyed by mobile Safari users to those who prefer non Apple hardware.