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DEVELOPMENT: Firefox Mobile receives another Proposal - Work in Progress
Posted by Arne Hess - on Thursday, 21.02.08 - 16:32:23 CET under 02 - Windows Mobile News - Viewed 13337x
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Following the first proposal, the developers of Firefox Mobile/Mozilla Mobile (the final name is still not decided) have posted another proposal of how the mobile version of Firefox could looks and works. While the first proposal also included information about a touchscreen-less UI, this proposal concentrates on touchscreen smartphones only (like Windows Mobile Classic PDAs and Windows Mobile Professional smartphones). Even if still in an early phase of discussion, the mockups and described functions looks quite promising already and if a Mobile Firefox will ever be released, it's quite foreseeable that we will relive another "browser-war", as we have seen it on the PC in the mid-90's but this time it will happens on mobile devices. Also it's unlikely that this time Microsoft will join the party (an possibly win), except something is cooking in Redmond nobody is aware of yet, but Mozilla, with its Firefox Mobile, and Opera Software, with its soon to be released Opera Mobile 9.5, will be the actors.

The main GUI of Firefox Mobile will include an "embossed" Firefox logo on the screen bottom that allows quick access to the most frequently operations (see bellow) and an "embossed" back button:

This allows quick access to the previous page, something that is, in the developers opinion, very useful when navigating multiple links from a home page, e.g. clicking on different links from the main page. An important planned feature of this main screen is that users can visit a website and visit different links on it (one at a time, returning the main page after reading a link), without ever activating the toolbar and following main functions are planned:

  • Pan/Scroll directly by dragging the screen
  • Zoom using touch/hold/drag
  • Go back with one tap on the back icon
  • Open the Toolbar with one tab on the Firefox icon

Touch operations on the screen above are as discussed:

  • Single Tap: On a link, navigate. Elsewhere, pan page to center on tap location.
  • Double Tap: Switch between full page view & zoomed view. If in full page view, double tap will zoom the page to readable size, centered on the tap location.
  • Touch & Drag: Pan in the direction of the drag.
  • Touch & Hold for 1 sec. & Move: Zoom in or out.
  • Touch & Hold for 2 sec. on a Link: This can show link information. On text, it can switch to text selection mode (for copy/paste operations).

Tapping the embossed Firefox icon will display the toolbars as shown bellow.

  • The Bottom Toolbar contains buttons for back, forward, places and tabs.
    • Tapping on the back/forward buttons will navigate back/forward and hide the toolbar.
    • Tapping once on the places icon will bookmark the current page. Tapping twice can could open the places screen.
    • Tapping on the tab button could open the tab screen.
    • Tapping on the Firefox logo will close the toolbars.
  • The Second Toolbar has the URL text field and the reload button.
    • Tapping the URL text field will open the URL entry screen.

On devices with a multitouch interface, all functions could optionally be accessed without menus. This would be more intuitive, and not too onerous. For example, a user could go back and forward with left and right swipes. Going to bookmarks could entail pinching the current page until it is smaller than the screen, which would fill the page with thumbnails of web pages. The current tabs would be in the center of the screen, with the most frequently used bookmarks surrounding them.

However, that's not all. According to the proposal, the Mozilla Mobile team even plans to support dedicated Mobile Firefox extensions
which can be added through additional toolbars and can be stacked atop the standard toolbars to support Mobile Firefox extensions.

This might become one of the major differences to other mobile browsers since the developers noted, that "Extensions are a key feature of Firefox and any UI proposal must provide a UI mechanism for extensions".

A final release release of Firefox Mobile shouldn't be expected before end of 2008 with first available Betas possibly available from Fall.

Cheers ~ Arne

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Posted by Bill on 21.02.08 - 17:57:52

Microsoft released a beta test of Deepfish a year or so ago.  It looked and operated very similar to Opera 9.5, iPhone Safari, and Skyfire.  I managed to get a code online that only worked for a couple hours.  As far as I know they haven't released any more codes since the original release.  Microsoft may be holding their trump card...

Posted by Arne Hess on 21.02.08 - 22:10:53

Well, Deepfish was a technology preview and unlike Opera Mobile, iPhone's Safari or Firefox Mobile, it's client/server based (like Skyfire or Thunderhawk years ago).
Personally, I don't believe in client/server based solutions these days anymore. Mobile devices are powerful enough to do the rendering on its own (which the iPhone and Nokia smartphones proves) and therefore I believe in a future of stand-alone browsers.

As far as I know, the development of Deepfish was never continued to a point of commercialization because, as I said before, it was a technology preview only.

Posted by Adam Z Lein on 25.02.08 - 17:11:21

I couldn't find any way to contact the developers there. The user interface design is horrible. There is no reason to confuse users with cryptic comprehensible icons. Put the word "Menu" at the bottom and make it open the menu!  Use the Windows Mobile softkey interface so that people can use hardware buttons to control the thing.

And where's the Start menu?  Where's my notifications (email, SMS, appointments)? Where's the minimize button?  This is not an acceptable web browser design for Windows Mobile. You can tell right away from looking at that screen capture that it's going to be difficult to use.

Posted by Arne Hess on 25.02.08 - 19:04:01

I agree but it looks like this is the UI future for Windows Mobile web browsers. I mean, check the Opera Mobile 9.5 GUI and it's - more or less - the same.

Anyway, you can contact the the Firefox Mobile developer team here:

There will be a meeting each week to discuss the general status of Mobile. Please use #mobile, or for communication

Meeting Details:

Monday @ 9:00AM PST
+1 650-903-0800 (US/Intl) x91 conf# 314
+1 800 707 2533 (US) pin 369 conf# 314
#mobile for backchannel

Posted by Adam Z Lein on 27.02.08 - 13:34:55

Well, it's a bad UI future because new users don't understand what unlabeled icons do. They do understand words that are written in their native language though. I don't think anyone can argue with that. Furthermore, people who have learned how to use Windows Mobile and its menu structure will also be lost when faced with such a foreign and inconsistent user interface. This does not make for a pleasant experience.

Posted by Arne Hess on 27.02.08 - 14:11:10

Well, I agree that it breaks with the learned Windows Mobile GUI experience but I have to admit that the top bar (in web browsers but also in other browsers) occupies space for nothing and personally I like that the new browsers takes over this space to show more of the website. I don't have to see the signal strength at all since GSM and UMTS coverage is pretty good these days. If I want to leave without closing the browser, I can simply press the red call button and I'm back on the Today screen.
Personally I think it's clever to hide the menu bar on the bottom by just leaving an embossed logo (or whatever but I agree that Opera went too far by leaving no indication on the bottom that there is more to open).

Anyway, the Firefox Mobile GUI is a proposal and since it is an open development, everybody is free to give the development team feedback to make it the (possibly) best mobile browser.

Posted by Adam Z Lein on 29.02.08 - 19:05:53

The top bar is imperative for multitasking. That gives you access to the Start menu which houses the most recently used programs (and the minimize button for accessing the previously used program). So say you want to copy some text or a URL from your browser and paste it into a calendar appointment or email or Word document... it becomes difficult without the Start menu and without learning the "trick" to accessing the today screen with the call end button.

As Douglas Anderson once said, "If there's a 'trick' to it, the UI is broken."

P.S. Going to the Today screen is not the same as going directly to the previously used program or directly to another recently used program.

Posted by Arne Hess on 29.02.08 - 20:09:25

Definitely, I agree, even if I have a slightly different point of view.
However, we should keep in mind that it is a) so far a proposal only and b) a pretty generic proposal for both, Windows Mobile and Linux touchscreen devices.
I'm sure the final UI integration for both will differentiate a little bit, depending on the UI found on the devices where it is to be implemented.

Have you contacted the developers already regarding your concerns? I'm sure they are happy for every feedback, doesn't matter if manufacture, carrier, enthusiast or user.

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