In a recent Q&A, Mozilla's John Lilly kindly shares som details on how Mozilla will finally redefine mobile Web browsing.
After their failed Minimo mobile browser project, they are now ready to rinse and repeat. But not without commenting on the competition, of course. Or the lack of it, if Mozilla is to be believed. Provided, of course, that the journalist has not taken liberties when "translating" Lilly's answers. …
I’m not sure I care about the Wii as a platform. People were critical of us last year, saying Opera has sewn it all up. But they won the last market. They have three times as many people as us. You have Opera browsers on the phone, but who uses it? Safari is a real Ajax-enabled browser on your phone and it lets you use your apps like Gmail. It changes the whole game. Opera won the closed, three-tiered system battles. That means you hire a huge sales force and port your software to 300 different phones.
First he conveniently dismisses one of the most successful consoles in history, Nintendo's Wii, which happens to fit nicely into Opera's multi-platform strategy. And would he say the same thing if that was Gecko powering the Shop Channel and Internet Channel?
He even wonders who is using Opera on phones. Well, apart from device manufacturers like Sony and Nintendo, mobile manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung, platforms like UIQ or operators like T-Mobile and KDDI, there's the free Opera Mini browser which has more than 35 million cumulative users, more than 100,000 downloads a day, and more than 15 billion page downloads, I don't know… Ok, fine. I concede on this point. No one uses Opera on mobile phones. Really.
When it comes to Ajax capabilities, how convenient it is that he only mentions Safari, which is not a threat since it's tied to the iPhone. He could of course have mentioned the Ajax-capable Opera Mobile browser (even Opera Mini supports some Ajax), but that would dilute his message. And no one uses Opera anyway, right? 😉
I'm not sure what to make of his comment on a huge sales force and porting software to 300 different phones. Is he saying that all Opera has done is to hire a huge sales force? How did we manage to port Opera to those 300 phones if we didn't invest heavily in engineering? That sounds like a contradiction to me. And if I am not mistaken, the biggest department at Opera is still the engineering department, including an army of QA people to make sure things work the way they should.
And is making software available on a huge variety of devices a bad thing all of a sudden? I am puzzled. I thought Mozilla took pride in being available for multiple platforms. Granted, they can't even begin to compare to Opera's platform coverage, but at least they are available on multiple platforms.
The fact is that Opera Mini can run on just about any phone out there, and this has even become the only way of accessing the Web for people in many countries where most people don't own computers or the land lines have poor coverage. The following quote is relevant here:
On user control:
We view the rise of Firefox through a political movement lens. It was people deciding they wanted more [user] control. Respect of privacy laws. We are more egalitarian. Our first motto was, “Take back the web.” Let it be yours…You just can’t do it yet on phones. I think that will change.
Why can't you do it yet on phones? Is it because Opera doesn't really exist on phones, and Opera Software hasn't been pushing open standards for years? Is it because Opera doesn't care about privacy?
What I don't understand is how you can put the user in charge if the user can't even download your browser. Lilly himself even pointed out earlier that we have ported Opera to hundreds of phones. If you own a phone, it can most likely run Opera (Mini). What kind of phones will be able to run Mozilla? Only the ones that are mostly used by people who already have other ways of accessing the Web? Lilly will be empowering the ones who already have everything they need to get online. Opera goes that extra step, and makes the Web available on hundreds of different phones, a move which seemed to meet only dismissive remarks from Lilly.
I guess Opera, which is smaller than Firefox again and with better memory handling (at least for lower-end devices), doesn't matter, then. No one uses Opera for mobile browsing, remember 😀
What's clear from all of this is that Mozilla fully intend to bring their browser to mobile phones this time around. When their Minimo project failed, Mozilla seemed to be hesitant to embrace the mobile Web, but I do not doubt that Mozilla will actually deliver this time. What they should realize, though, is that they are not treading a new path here. And while spinning things to their advantage is something that's very common when marketing a product, Mozilla should at least try to keep it honest, and realize that there's more to their competitors than "a huge sales force" (which apparently hasn't even been very successful since "no one uses Opera on mobile phones" ;)).
I wish Mozilla good luck on getting their browser to run on mobile phones, give them a warm welcome to the world of mobile browsing, and hope to see a slightly less dismissive attitude towards the competition in the future.