Mozilla announced the availability of a mobile Firefox browser for Nokia smartphones built off the Maemo platform. Reading this news I began to wonder if Firefox has as bright a future on smartphones as it does on PCs, laptops and Netbooks. I’m a happy Firefox user on my PC and sometimes on my Mac, but browser market dynamics don’t seem to be as advanced on mobile devices as they are on traditional PCs today. Users tend to use the native smartphone browser an order of magnitude more than they use the native browser on a PC, laptop or Netbook. If this trend continues, the leading mobile browser will be the browser shipped natively on the leading smartphone, with little room for a third party browser to assert itself as a challenger or leader.

Let’s take a quick look at the native browsers on the leading smartphone platforms. Symbian, the number 1 smartphone operating system by market share builds its own browser. The Blackberry, iPhone, Android and Palm WebOS, the number 2, 3, 5 and 6 smartphone operating systems by market share respectively, all deliver native mobile browsers based on Webkit. Well, Blackberry doesn’t yet, but RIM acquired a company that will help get RIM on the Webkit bandwagon in 2010. Webkit is the competing browser rendering engine to Mozilla’s Gecko engine at the heart of Firefox. The number 4 smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile, not surprisingly ships a mobile IE browser.

Firefox is being shipped as the native browser on two of Nokia’s high end N-series smartphones built off the Maemo platform. But the rest of Nokia’s smartphones are built off the Symbian platform. Additionally, Nokia’s success in the smartphone market is not a fait accompli as the iPhone, Blackberry and Android are viewed to be growing at Nokia & Symbian’s expense.

Mobile Firefox clearly faces an uphill battle for inclusion as the native browser on leading smartphones. However, I wouldn’t write Firefox off in the smartphone arena just yet. As smartphones become more critical to the daily lives of mainstream users, synchronizing between computing devices will become complex and critical. Synchronizing the browsing experience between a traditional PC at work or at home with your smartphone’s browser could become the ‘killer app’ that pulls mobile Firefox onto smartphones. The Weave Sync feature in Firefox addresses just this scenario:

“Sync your Firefox tabs, history, bookmarks and passwords between your desktop and mobile device for a seamless browsing experience”

As I write this I have 28 tabs open in Firefox. Some of the tabs are only open until I find the time to read them. Other tabs contain information that I’ll need to act on when I’m out shopping or out with friends. Today, if I want the information available on my Blackberry I have to email myself the URL or copy and paste information from a webpage into an email to myself. I’d love for my PC browser tabs to be synchronized and available on my Blackberry when I’m out and about. I want this feature so much that I’ll even go as far as adding a third party browser to my Blackberry, something I haven’t bothered to do since becoming a Blackberry user 2 year ago.

It seems unthinkable that Firefox’s growth and popularity on traditional PCs would not somehow translate into a competitive differentiator on smartphones. While Firefox lacks the smartphone distribution channel that Webkit enjoys, Firefox can differentiate in offering a seamless browsing experience across PC and mobile devices.

What do you think about mobile Firefox’s prospects?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

I used to work in market research, so I’m always skeptical of data until I’ve understood how it was measured.  That’s why I was surprised with this headline from TechCrunch: “Apple And Android Now Make Up 75 Percent Of U.S. Smartphone Web Traffic“. More specifically, I was surprised how large Android was in this reported data.  I absolutely believe Android will grow in significance in the future; today is a different story.

To the casual reader, that title of the TechCrunch report, along with the accompanying pie charts suggested that the iPhone and Android accounted for 55 percent and 20 percent of the US smartphone market.  These results position the iPhone and Android in number one and two in US smartphone web traffic.

Digging a little deeper, AdMob clearly explains how they arrive at the data:

“The report is based on the ad requests we receive from our network of more than 15,000 mobile Web sites and iPhone and Android applications.”

I couldn’t find details that split the “15,000” figure between mobile websites and mobile device-specific applications.   Mobile websites that serve information to any device seems like a logical way to measure mobile web traffic. On the other hand, iPhone and Android applications will definitely increase the web traffic counted in the iPhone and Android buckets accordingly. This is not to say that AdMob’s data or methodology is flawed.  Rather, it’s helpful to know what was actually measured and how.

I went back to the October 2008 results and found that over the past year, the number of mobile sites and applications has increased 150 percent from 6,000 to 15,000. I’d love to understand how the additional 9,000 “mobile sites and applications” added in 2009 split across mobile sites versus iPhone or Android applications. There has been an explosion in iPhone applications, so it’s not hard to assume that AdMob is tracking a higher percentage of iPhone applications in its data collection network in 2009 versus 2008.

Another factoid that surprised me, over the past year, the number of requests tracked by AdMob has increased 127 percent from 2.2 billion to 5 billion in the US. The mobile web is still in its infancy and it’ll be interesting to track the number of mobile request in a year. Oh, that and the percent of requests associated with Android phones!

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Three open source products are aiming to reduce the barrier to entry for customers wishing to build native mobile applications using web development skills alone.  These products are PhoneGap, Rhomobile and Appcelerator’s Titanium Mobile.

I’ve covered PhoneGap in the past.  People’s Choice Winner at Web 2.0 Expo Launch Pad, PhoneGap is targeted at web developers with HTML, JavaScript and CSS skills who want to build device agnostic applications across the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry platforms.  PhoneGap currently supports access to GPS, vibration, accelerometer, sound and contacts.  PhoneGap is licensed under the MIT license.  Developers and companies can use PhoneGap for mobile applications that are free, commercial, open source, or any combination thereof.

Rhomobile, selected Best Startup at INTEROP 2009, lets developers use HTML and Ruby to create native iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android applications.  Rhomobile currently supports GPS, contacts and camera functionality with plans to add SMS, push, audio/video capture and accelerometer support.  Rhomobile is licensed under the GPLv3.  This means you’ll have to open source your mobile application when it’s ready to be distributed, or pay for a commercial Rhomobile license.

Today, Appcelerator announced support for building native iPhone and Android applications using JavaScript, HTML and CSS with its Titanium mobile product.  Titanium mobile provides native access to the device’s storage, multimedia, input, and geo-location APIs.  Titanium is licensed under the Apache Public License V2.  Developers and companies can use Titanium for mobile applications that are free, commercial, open source, or any combination thereof.  BTW, if you’re at WWDC, Appcelerator is hosting a beta launch party from 6 to 9 PM at Jillian’s in San Francisco on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

Rhomobile is the odd man out with a license that forces developers and companies to pay for a license or open source their own mobile application.  Unless Rhomobile delivers an order of magnitude more productivity than Titanium or PhoneGap, I foresee Rhomobile facing challenges with developer adoption.
The GPL works fine with developers, ISVs and partners when the majority of open source competitors are also using the GPL.  But in the face two competitors using liberal BSD-based licenses, the GPL is definitely a hindrance to developer adoption.  And I’d argue that developer adoption today will differentiate between leaders and also rans in 12 to 18 months.

Have you used any of these products?  What do you think?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

I stumbled upon PhoneGap while exploring twitter this weekend.  PhoneGap is a device independent framework that allows web developers to take advantage of native features (e.g. GPS, accelerometer, sound, vibration) of the iPhone, Android-based devices, and Blackberry devices simply by using JavaScript.  The framework allows web developers to write cross-device applications without having to learn new languages, such as Objective C or Java.

PhoneGap is the brainchild of folks over at Nitobi, a Canadian software firm known for its “Complete UI” platform for building Ajax-powered Web user interfaces.  PhoneGap is an open source project licensed under the MIT license.  The project is looking for help to help mature PhoneGap quickly.

If I worked at RIM, I’d take a trip out to Vancouver to talk to the Nitobi dudes.  This framework is exactly what RIM needs to counter the trend of developers targeting the iPhone/iPod as the premier environment for mobile device applications.  RIM has the brand and market share to persuade developers that writing once and targeting three key mobile platforms is the best use of a mobile developer’s effort. RIM would need to adopt WebKit as the rendering engine for their browser, but that is going to happen anyway ;-)

Okay, I’ll admit it. Like many of you, I’m easily impressed by shinny, beautiful objects.  Apple products typically fit that description to a tee.

So far, I’ve done my best to not buy Apple products, for the simple fact that Apple doesn’t trust me to do what I want with Apple products that I pay for and own.  (Note, my wife owns an iPod and I borrow it from time to time).  I still find it shocking that Apple can get away with such a closed stance.

Reading about the “iPhone kill switch”:

“…such a capability exists in case Apple inadvertently allows a malicious program to be distributed through the App Store.

Jobs is quoted saying: “Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull.””

Just imagine if Microsoft or a hardware provider such as HP had put in an equivalent “feature” on PCs. Seriously, talk about a double standard when it comes to Apple!

I was going to argue that Apple should have learned the lesson from the early PC vs. Apple computer market.  But the truth is, Apple is happy to remain a closed ecosystem and not face the downward pressure on prices that ultimately results from an open marketplace.  Apple must have realized that closed and beautiful wins out over open.  They’re just applying that learning to the iPod/iPhone applications market.

I’m pulling for RIM to offer mobile application developers with an open development platform without restrictions on the applications that developers can build and users can freely choose to run. It remains to be seen how/if RIM can offer the user experience of the iTunes store for RIM-based applications and content.