Home The New Browser War: Mobile Firefox vs. Opera Mini

The New Browser War: Mobile Firefox vs. Opera Mini

Last October, Mozilla announced that they were working on a mobile version of the Firefox browser. As it turns out, they were working on two versions: one designed for touchscreen devices like the iPhone and another for traditional phones. Now Mozilla has finally given us a glimpse of their designs by posting the plans, mockups, and details of these two upcoming mobile browsers on the Mozilla wiki.

Non-Touchscreen Firefox Mobile

The non-touchscreen browser introduces a virtual cursor that is controlled with the keyboard navigational keys. Using short presses (clicks) on the directional pad’s left key will quickly navigate through clickable elements. Longer presses on the left key will begin smooth scrolling. When scrolling, after a set amount of time the page will gradually zoom out to give you a view of the entire layout which will allow for faster scrolling. When you stop pressing the directional pad button, the browser will gradually zoom back in on the element that the cursor is positioned over.

The right key of the directional pad will bring up a menu that provides access to navigation functionality, including items like the Address Bar, Refresh, Back, History, Bookmarks, Tabs, Bookmark This, and Quit.

Touchscreen Firefox Mobile

The touchscreen version of the Firefox mobile browser seems to borrow from Apple’s mobile Safari browser with some familiar-looking buttons which include the back and forward navigation arrows, a bookmarks button, and a retractable address bar. The star-bookmarks button will show you a list of your bookmarks if you tap it once; tap it twice and you can bookmark the current page you are viewing.
However, this UI also includes some new features like Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons, which are on the bottom toolbar, as well as a tabs button that will display up to four tab previews displayed 2×2 on your screen for fast tab switching.

Weave Integration to Come?

Although not detailed in these specifications, many sites are speculating that these new mobile browsers will provide bookmark syncing through Weave, Mozilla’s new project for data and metadata portability. This is likely since mobile syncing was one of the listed “Use Cases” in the Mozilla Labs forum on the project. With Weave, though, bookmark syncing could really be just the beginning. Weave could, in theory, also sync up browser settings like sessions and passwords from desktop to mobile to laptop and beyond.

Another big possibility is the development of extensions designed just for Mobile Firefox. This would be a break-out feature that could make Mobile Firefox unique in this space. However, no plans for this type of development have been announced yet.

The Mobile Firefox browser should arrive sometime in late 2008.

…But Opera Mini Already Does That

What’s interesting about the Mobile Firefox announcement and surrounding hubbub is that Opera Mini today offers nearly the same features that Mozilla is still developing.

Most notably, Opera Mini 4 can already sync your mobile phone bookmarks with the bookmarks on your computer by using something called Opera Link. Although not as seamless as the possible Weave setup (perhaps), syncing bookmarks with Opera is fairly simple.

You click “Synchronize Opera” on the Start Page and then sign in with your Opera Account. Opera Mini will continue to synchronize your data until you log out.

Opera Link Photo via Opera.com

Opera Mini also has many useful navigation options, too. For example, pressing * # switches your screen to Landscape Mode, a setting that can be enabled as the default.

A virtual mouse is also provided: you can move the cursor towards what you want and it quickly snaps the view to the link or the content. When you first visit a web page, Opera Mini shows you an overview and suggest where to begin reading. Click once and you can zoom in on the content.

Before you click on a link, however, you can focus the cursor on the link to see where it’s going to take you. You can then choose whether you want to open the new page with images turned off, a feature that can be turned on or off at any time.

Opera Mini also has several keyboard shortcuts. Power scrolling shortcuts (2, 4, 6, and 8 keys) let you quickly move around the web page and the 5 key zooms you in and out. Pressing 1 bring up the Context Menu where you can hit reload or switch to Mobile View. This unique Small Screen Rendering feature lets you fit any web page to your screen’s width. Opera Mini 4 will adjust the page structure on the fly, so you can browse up and down without having to also deal with horizontal scrolling.

Blackberry users have built-in menus designed just for them and for Windows Mobile/Symbian users, there’s an even more feature-rich Opera Mobile browser to use.

Why Firefox Might Win

Although Opera Mini is a great mobile browser with tons of features, back on the desktop, Firefox has more users. So, when it comes time to choose a mobile browser, the one that syncs with your desktop browser of choice is likely to win out. Plus, if add-ons are developed for Mobile Firefox, it has the possibility of becoming a killer mobile app.

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