Mozilla Q&A: Redefines mobile browsing – again, dismisses competition – again

In a recent Q&A, Mozilla's John Lilly kindly shares som details on how Mozilla will finally redefine mobile Web browsing.

Sound familiar?

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. …

On Opera:

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.

On performance:

On Javascript, we are the fastest. We are half the size of Safari and less than half the size of IE in memory footprint.

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 😀

It was my impression that Safari was the current JavaScript champion, but I could be mistaken. And besides, we're not done yet…

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.

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22 thoughts on “Mozilla Q&A: Redefines mobile browsing – again, dismisses competition – again

  1. Great answer to them! :up:Mozilla haven't delivered anything to mobile world yet, but already started publishing greasy marketing publucations.

  2. ff3b4 writes:

    "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"well, in this part she is right. FF3beta real-world Javascript performance is INCREDIBLE. Same as memory management, and overall app footprint. They did something amazing in these areas. anyone who used ff3 beta4, or newer beta5 builds will notice, that THIS THING IS FAST, clearly few times faster than opera/safari in any version. this clearly is a point to note, it looks like first step to copy opera' way – one app, one code (almost) for all platforms. with current pace, they will do it very soon.anyway – nice marketing on their part, most companies do the same, belittle their greatest competitors, but trash on smaller ones. it isnt moral, but.. well.. it is business.

  3. Originally posted by John Lilly:

    We view the rise of Firefox through a political movement lens.

    The above quote might explain some of the rabid fanboyism. It is sadly coming from the top down. Anymore some of the Mozilla PR is starting to sound very similar to Microsoft's vapourware statements.

  4. @ff3b4: Firefox still doesn't hold a candle to Opera if you've got a slower system. Especially mobile phones! You know, the topic of this Q&A and all…. :lol:And Opera's UI is still more responsive than Firefox on the desktop, which is always a good thing 😀 So no, Firefox is't a few times faster than Opera and Safari. With the speed of today's JavaScript engines you are reaching the point of diminishing returns on desktop computers. You are not going to notice a real difference. But how responsive the UI is, is often very noticeable!

  5. Mozilla needs to be called on that. What they wrote is about the worst piece of journalism on the web. Lies. At least when they lied about Firefox being faster and more secure than Internet Explorer, it was a good thing for the industry to recognize alternative browsers. It sounds like Mozilla's marketing team will say anything to get people to use their products.

  6. Asa writes:

    The interview wasn't 100% accurate in terms of transcribing exactly what was said (and this kind of interview seldome is.) That being said, your refrain of "no one uses Opera for mobile browsing" doesn't stand up too well as an effective rhetorical device when Opera's most successful mobile product accounts for well under 1/10 of 1% of overall Web browser usage, and is getting soundly beat by just a few million brand new iPhone users. The actual quote, "You have Opera browsers on the phone, but who uses it?", while a bit of hyperbole, is actually really not that far from the truth.Now, that's not completely Opera's browser's fault. It's probably mostly a result of people simply not wanting to browse the web (regardless of what browser is there) on the various scores or hundreds of underpowered handsets that Opera has spent large amounts of engineering resources (and presumably sales and other "relationship" resources) porting to. John's question, "but who uses it?" is one that Opera should be asking when they look at browser usage in the mobile market. How is it that Opera, with its tens of millions of users and years and years of experience, and it's extensive relationships with all the handset makers, saw its dominance in that market wiped out in a few months by a relative newcomer?I think the answer to that is that the playing field just changed. People have now experienced what it's like to have a no-compromise browsing experience and that's going to be the new baseline. So, getting back to the article, the intent of the comment, the one that you've latched onto so melodramatically, was to explain to the reporter that people just don't use the pre-iPhone browsers that much. That's not praise of Apple, it's just a statement of fact. That's well supported by all of the marketshare numbers available and it's simply not a very controversial observation — there's no controversy there unless you want to manufacture one for your readers. Opera has made a big deal about doing really well in a market that just doesn't have a very big presence on the Web. I'm personally quite happy that the countless pre-smartphone (or more accurately, pre-iPhone) phones have a decent browser available, Mini or Mobile from Opera for what (little) they do use the web.Oh, and in case you missed it, I did just say, "I'm personally quite happy that the countless pre-smartphone (or more accurately, pre-iPhone ) phones have a decent browser available, Mini or Mobile from Opera" and I meant it. Opera is doing those users who do need Web access on lower-capability phones a great service. Opera's tens of millions of users in that space is quite impressive and if Opera wants to continue to put most of its resources into that market, I don't think they're going to face many challenges because everyone else, (including Microsoft and Google,) are going to be putting their resources behind fully-featured browsers on much more capable handsets for a no-compromise web experience.As to all the responses to the "Firefox is faster and smaller" comments, well, you can complain all you want, but it's a fact. John said "On Javascript, we are the fastest. We are half the size of Safari and less than half the size of IE in memory footprint." Not only did John not mention Opera there, because the reporter had specifically asked about Android/Webkit, but the fact is that he could have just as easily included Opera in that statement and it would have been just as accurate.Firefox 3 will be, in a few short weeks, the fastest and lowest resource consuming full-featured browser available. Feel free to run the SunSpider tests, the Dromaeo tests, and the pageload memory usage tests that Stuart's made available to see this yourself. This is an area that Opera's traditionally had a strong lead, but Safari 3.1 took the crown from Opera when it shipped just a couple weeks ago and Firefox 3 will take the crown from Safari 3.1 when it ships next month. Now, Opera may be able to come back before it ships 9.5, but all of the recent tests suggest that it's definitely got some catching up to do if it wants to pass Safari/WebKit, and then even more to pass Firefox in terms of JS performance and memory footprint.- A

  7. Opera's most successful mobile product accounts for well under 1/10 of 1% of overall Web browser usage, and is getting soundly beat by just a few million brand new iPhone users.

    Is your source the recent poll which only measured smartphone usage, but did not take other mobile phones into account? If so, then you should probably be aware of exactly what the poll says. Surely, you are not leaving out certain phones on purpose just to make Opera look worse? :)(I certainly hope that you are not basing your claims on the numbers by Net Applications. After all, they completely changed their stats a few months ago, so they are extremely unreliable.)

    How is it that Opera, with its tens of millions of users and years and years of experience, and it's extensive relationships with all the handset makers, saw its dominance in that market wiped out in a few months by a relative newcomer?

    When was Opera's dominance wiped out? Opera is still the most widely used mobile browser, as far as I know. The smartphone numbers for Safari don't change that. How can anyone claim that Safari has more users than Opera Mini when the number of Opera Mini users is higher than the number of iPhones sold? That simply does not compute, Asa.Now, iPhone users may be browsing the Web from their iPhone a lot. They have a data plan especially suited for that purpose, after all. But that doesn't mean that the iPhone has sold more units than Opera Mini has users. And considering that Opera Mini is the only way for some people to access the internet, it goes without saying that Opera Mini users are very active as well.

    I think the answer to that is that the playing field just changed. People have now experienced what it's like to have a no-compromise browsing experience and that's going to be the new baseline.

    Indeed. And this is why Opera Mini 4 with its desktop-like experience is so amazingly popular, and why Opera Mobile 9.5 is seeing rave reviews, even for an buggy pre-alpha leak.

    the fact is that he could have just as easily included Opera in that statement and it would have been just as accurate

    Actually, it would not. Opera is still smaller than Firefox. And remember, this is about mobile browsers.

    Firefox 3 will be, in a few short weeks, the fastest and lowest resource consuming full-featured browser available.

    Firefox 3 will be a desktop browser. Again, this is about mobile browsers. I think you'll be in for a surprise 🙂

  8. Anonymous writes:

    "Firefox 3 will be a desktop browser. Again, this is about mobile browsers. I think you'll be in for a surprise"but there is no surprise, that your point is some kind of vague remark without any value. when is opera going to get a grip and hire some decent marketing guys? 'secrecy' is passee. playing 'we know it, you not, and we are cool with that' game in 21th century is.. not even funny."Now, iPhone users may be browsing the Web from their iPhone a lot. They have a data plan especially suited for that purpose, after all. But that doesn't mean that the iPhone has sold more units than Opera Mini has users."without need to read any stats – most big portals provide stats of their own pages – in us, iphone makes 60% of total mobile traffic. people are a) abandoning older solutions or b) browsing with iphone more, because it is more convenient/efficient/more likable. both these trends are bad for opera mini/mobile. and btw it is another topic, when the stats that are bad for opera are not trustworthy, and you claim your own stats (number of opera mini/mobile users) that are not available for public (along with methodology etc). problem with stats is, that with large enough sample, these stats are trustworthy. and opera in general is still around 1% and not moving a bit. will you blame stats?or yourself?btw – you know what is a surprise? excelent dev tools that came with safari 3.1. no fuss, no dragonwhatever, they simply delivered something that was needed. opera still thinks that dev tools are not important enough to deliver even beta/alpha ones _that work_

  9. I am not a "marketing guy" (I work in QA), so I'm not sure how hiring more marketing guys is going to prevent me from being vague in my own blog :)I'm also not sure where you got the 60 per cent iPhone figure from, but I'll take it with a grain of salt since all the stats I've seen so far conveniently leave out all phones that are not in the same market segment as the iPhone. All I know is that the trends for Opera Mini and Mobile are great. And this information is public, as it can be found in our financial reports.Lastly, you conveniently rely on stats that do not reveal their methodology either… Oops! 🙂 As far as I know Net Applications never revealed how they measure browser usage. When they can completely change all their stats overnight, that says a thing or two about how reliable they are… You can read a bit more about this in my recent blog post about XiTi Monitor and their flawed browser stats.

  10. Asa writes:

    "When was Opera's dominance wiped out? Opera is still the most widely used mobile browser, as far as I know. The smartphone numbers for Safari don't change that. How can anyone claim that Safari has more users than Opera Mini when the number of Opera Mini users is higher than the number of iPhones sold? That simply does not compute, Asa."Nowhere did I say that iPhone Safari had more users than Opera. I explicitly noted that they were kicking your butt in _usage_ with very much fewer users. "Opera's most successful mobile product … is getting soundly beat by *_just_a_few_million_* brand new iPhone users." There may be billions or trillions of phones out there with Opera on them, but apparently no one's actually using Opera on those phones very much. How else could it be that just a few million iPhones in less than a year could generate so much bigger numbers in actual usage (you know, browsing the web, the thing that web browsers are designed for) than the "most widely used mobile browser". (I think you mean "most widely deployed". There's a very meaningful difference — actually that's the whole point of my reply here.)If your argument is that the phones Opera ships on aren't designed for browsing the web or the data plans aren't conducive, then I see that as a pretty significant failure. Why spend all those resources to put your browser on phones where people won't use them? Oh, except that Opera can charge a licensing fee for pre-installs on handsets (and get paid regardless of whether those browsers are ever used) and that's where the bulk of Opera's revenue comes from. I guess it makes some sense if your primary relationship is with handset makers rather than with users.- A

  11. Keep in mind that the context here is number of users, Asa, not how active those users are. I know I mentioned several manufacturers and carriers, but don't leave out the part which doesn't fit your story. I know that it might be tempting to try to spin this story and deflect criticism by changing the subject, but that was my problem with Lilly's statements in the first place! They were simply misleading, and while he was happy to make a snide (and false) remark about the number of Opera users on mobile phones, he conveniently left out Opera when it performed better at one of the things he was bragging about.Now, how active each user is isn't really what I was referring to in the first place, but I'll respond anyway:When it comes to usage, don't forget that iPhone users have unlimited data plans specifically to allow for browsing the Web, so it is not strange that they are active when browsing. There's no reason not to. Combine that with things like a large touchscreen, and you will realize that it is the hardware and data plan which makes the iPhone. So when comparing iPhone usage to browser usage you are comparing apples and oranges. The iPhone is a very nice piece of hardware, and it is now up to other hardware manufacturers and carriers to match it. We've already got the software to do so (and Nokia was way ahead of Apple here as well), at least as far as browsers are concerned.But the point I was making, and which you ignored, is that Opera Mini users are also very active, even though the vast majority likely has to pay quite a lot for the data they are downloading. Remember, in some countries, Opera Mini is the only way for a lot of people to access the Web! I would guess that just about all iPhone users browse from their computers as well, while many Opera Mini users have no computer at all. So I don't think your claim that iPhone users generate a lot more actual usage than Opera Mini is true.And I'm not even talking about phones shipped with Opera Mini. I'm talking about actual usage. Since all traffic goes through the Mini servers, we can keep track of how many people are using them.So yes, Opera is still the most widely used mobile browser. And your claim that "Opera's dominance was wiped out", while false, directly contradicts the nice little fairy tale that "no one uses Opera on phones". You need to get your stories straight over at Mozilla, since you can't both claim that Opera is dominant, and that no one uses it at the same time 😉

  12. Asa writes:

    When I say "no one uses" something I mean just that, they don't use it – not that they don't have it installed or didn't use it one time in the past, or couldn't use it more in the future if circumstances were different (more affordable data plans?) When John said "who uses it" he meant just that. Who u. s. e. s. it. He didn't say "who has it installed on their phones." Had he suggested that no one had it installed or no one tried it once some time in the past, he'd have been wrong. But that's not what he said at all. It looks to me that you and Opera are calling anyone who has ever used Mini, even just once, a user. That's the reason for the use of "cumulative" as a descriptor for users rather than what we use, "active," right? I think that's a bogus definition since Mini users will make a connection when they install it. That means that what you're really talking about here is the number of people who installed it (or more generously, who tried it out,) not the number of people actively using it.So, 35 million people have tried out Opera Mini. How many are going to the web with it at least once a month? Opera could certainly say what that number is, given that they operate the Mini web servers. But they chose not to. Why? Perhaps it's because the number isn't as impressive? That's a shame, because fewer users, a more honest claim of actual active users would bolster your argument that those users are very active. "But the point I was making, and which you ignored, is that Opera Mini users are also very active, even though the vast majority likely has to pay quite a lot for the data they are downloading.If they were truly "very active" then they'd show up as more than a fraction of a fraction of one percent of overall browser usage. If they were "very active" then Opera wouldn't be getting decimated in "active" usage by a less than 1 year old entry into the mobile market with only a few million installed base coming from a vendor that's a relative newcomer to the browser market and mobile market. They're just not "very active".Your argument is essentially "Opera has worked hard to put Opera on tens of millions of phones where people can't afford to use Opera very much" and I'm not going to disagree with you on that. I think it's a fine pursuit for Opera and I even suggested that it was a real service to people on those kinds of phones — I'll add, those kinds of poor data plans.- A

  13. Asa writes:

    Oh, and as for your final point, it's not impossible, actually, it's quite easy to dominate a market that's emerging (or as in the case of mobile browsing, not quite emerged when Opera was dominant.) There's no contradiction in claiming that Opera dominated a market that wasn't very big or active. – A

  14. Originally posted by Asa:

    it's quite easy to dominate a market that's emerging

    Must be, given Mozilla's fantastic success in the mobile field.

  15. The number of cumulative users was merely an illustration of how many people have used Opera Mini. You can find more details on usage and so on in our financial reports, should you so wish.It does seem to me that you are still trying to change the subject. Claming that "no one" is using Opera for mobile phones is simply wrong when you consider the rapdid growth in Opera Mini traffic, and the countless handset manufacturers and carriers who preinstall Opera on their handsets. Yes, they count as "users" too, since they use Opera on their handsets (regardless of whether everyone who owns one of those handsets uses it to browse the Web or not).The bottom line is that Opera is the most widely used mobile browser, in terms of number of users, which was what Lilly was commenting on.What are the statistics you are referring to, by the way? I know about two or three dealing with mobile browsing. One is valid for a tiny subset of US sites, one is only for Google, and the last one is only valid for smartphones in the same market segment as the iPhone (and thus excludes Opera Mini in the first place).

  16. Asa Dotzler writes:

    Haavard, find me a serious web analytics measure that shows Opera being acually _used_ more than Safari. And sitting idle on a handset does not count as usage. Neither does having connected to the web one time in the past. Like I said, you can ship Opera on a billion phones but if only a tiny subset of those people use it regularly, then it's completely reasonable to say "yeah, but no one uses it". (and yes, that can be proved false by one person having ever opened Opera once on a Mobile phone — something I've personally done, but that's clearly not what John was communicating.) John was illuminating the very interesting, I think, fact that while Opera has clearly dominated the battle to get its browser shipped on the most phones, it's losing the battle on getting people to actually use its browser for very much Web browsing. Even more interesting, it's losing to a relative newcomer to the browser and mobile markets because that newcomer built a browser/phone/service combination that's actually pretty good — good enough that with only a few million users, it's already accounting for more total usage than Opera's tens of millions of mobile users. All of that was to point out that the market was not sewn up (by Opera, as the interviewer was intimating) and that there was still a lot of opportunity for increased competition and for new entrants to be successful — just look at how much more the few million iPhone users browse the web than the tens of millions of Opera on mobile users browse the web and you'll see. Now, you can try to suggest there was something else going on here, that John had some other intention than pointing out what was pretty obvious to all but the most zealous Opera users, and that may play well to your readers and your wider community, but it doesn't change what John said or the takeaway that the overwhelming majority of readers got from that interview. – A

  17. Asa, it would be nice if you could stay on topic and take the time to actually read my comments. It feels like I'm repeating myself over and over again.The question was who uses Opera, not how active those users are. I pointed out that a lot of people, handset manufacturers and operators use Opera.How active the actual users are is really a different question, and comparing hardware and a data plan specifically created for unlimited browsing to what most people today have is comparing apples and oranges. I personally use Opera Mini when browsing from my phone, and I have to be conscious and limit my online time because the prices to go online are too high. If I had unlimited access, I would have browsed the Web from my phone a lot more frequently than I do now. This is not a failure of Opera or other browser manufacturers, but rather a problem with a mobile market that still has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to data services.John's comment was not about about opportunities. What he did was to simply dismiss Opera, claiming that no one uses it, and insinuating that Opera's technology is not up to scratch. He "forgot" about Opera when Opera's Ajax capabilities (in the very next sentence!) and footprint didn't fit his message. I also think that his insinuation that all Opera has done is to hire a huge sales force, and that making it available for many different phones is a bad thing, was a pretty underhanded thing to do. Why dismiss Opera as if all it has going for it is a strong sales team rather than market-leading technology? Why is making a browser available to a wide range of phones a bad thing?Let's take a look at a couple of his statements again:

    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.

    He claims that no one uses Opera, and the explanation seems to be that it is not Ajax-enabled or not available to browse the open Web (see the word "closed"). So Ajax-enabled mobile browsers are somehow something new, with Safari being first? That is not true. Opera Mobile actually supports Ajax. Opera Mobile is also not crippled somehow, and not restricted from browsing the open Web.I hope to see more honesty from Mozilla in the future.

  18. If I had unlimited access, I would have browsed the Web from my phone a lot more frequently than I do now. This is not a failure of Opera or other browser manufacturers, but rather a problem with a mobile market that still has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to data services.

    Exactly! I just don't want to pay additional $20-30/month for unlimited data plan… When I already pay ~$90 for 2-phones family plan and ~$40 for DSL.

  19. Asa writes:

    haavard, are you're suffering from some kind of victim syndrome where you can't hear anything except as an attack on your browser. I've made repeated attempts to explain why Opera was not being attacked in that interview and you're just unwilling to listen. You're either way too thin-skinned for the Web or you're manufacturing outrage. I'm more inclined to the former as you make it more and more clear that you're undeterred in your desire to remain a poor abused victim. Buck up some. Seriously.

  20. Thank you for showing your true colours, Asa :)This is business. In business, truth is the real victim, as this interview demonstrates.

  21. @Asa: Ad-hominem attacks? Ah, well… at least you managed to avoid them for SOME time…Unsubscribe btw, the argument is over.

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