Tag Archives: Firefox Mobile
Mozilla released Firefox 19 this week for Windows, OSx, Linux and Android. The release notes list the new features in the Android release as:
- Support for more HTML5 and CSS3 features
- Themes support
- Support for Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese localizations
- Lower Minimum hardware requirements (600MHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, HVGA) to support more devices
- Bug fixes
While I was poking around in the menus I noticed an option in the settings menu that I don't remember seeing before, "Pinch to reflow text". It's disabled by default, When you turn it on, text reflows to fit the window as you zoom in and out.
Reflow has always been a feature of the stock Android Browser, Opera Mobile and most other Android browsers, but not Firefox Mobile. It's a real eyesaver on some some desktop sites that are almost unreadable because of a combination of wide text columns and small font sizes. The screen shots above show an example on XDA-Developers. The left image shows how the site looks when you double tap to initially fit the page's text to the window. The font size is so small that I found it a hard to read. No problem, just zoom in a bit and Firefox reflows the text so it still fits the window and horizontal scrolling isn't needed.
I did notice a couple of somewhat annoying issues with Firefox's reflow. For one, the browser doesn't maintain the current scroll position as you zoom in. If you are at the bottom of a long page and zoom in the browser will jump back to the middle of the page and you will have to scroll back down to find your place. The second issue is that zooming on one tab tends to effect the zoom levels on other tabs. Neither if Pinch to reflow text is turned off. Hopefully these problems will be fixed in a future release, text reflow on zoom is a really useful feature when browsing on small screens.
Seeking Alpha is a big US based stock market analysis and financial site. I recently discovered that it has a mobile formatted layout which it seems to only serve to Android and iOS devices. In Safari, the Android default browser and Android Chrome, the mobile layout is attractive and seems user friendly, although scrolling in both Android browsers feels a bit laggy.
On other mobile platforms like bada, Symbian, S40 and WebOS, Seeking Alpha delivers its desktop layout, which is a bit sluggish and unwieldy, but usable on mobile devices.
But woe to anyone who tries to use the Seeking Alpha site with
Firefox Mobile, Opera Mobile or Opera Mini on Android. The mobile formatted version loads in these browsers. It even looks OK with all the page elements laid out in their proper places. But most of the links don't work and pages can't be scrolled. In other words the page is completely and totally broken! And there's no way to switch to the desktop view either. I didn't try the site in Opera Mini on an iPhone but suspect it breaks the same way there.
The site's designers apparently know or suspect (because they probably didn't bother to test in any other browsers) that their mobile view doesn't work with anything but iOS Safari and the Android browser so they don't serve it to other mobile platforms. But their browser detection algorithm detects platforms rather than browsers and they end up serving markup intended for the Android browser to Opera and Firefox just because they are running on the Android platform. This is confirmed by the fact that the Opera browsers on Symbian get the desktop version.
The way Seeking Alpha breaks only on non-Google browsers on Android is weird, but one of the perils of building and testing to a specific browser or browsers rather than using a standards based approach and testing with multiple browsers and platforms.
This tendency for web designers to only test against iOS and Android, the so called "Webkit Monoculture", is putting other browser vendors and their users in a real bind. It's pushing Opera and Mozilla toward giving their browsers -webkit- CSS prefix support, and in the case of Mozilla, changing user agent strings to impersonate Safari. Many in the web design community design community whom I respect think this will do more harm than good. As a user I'm don't know who's right, I just want sites to work no matter which platform and browser I'm using.
Update 3-May-2012: The Seeking Alpha site now works properly in Firefox Mobile but is still broken in Opera Mobile and Opera Mini.
Opera Mobile and Firefox Mobile and the browsers on other smartphone platforms are often as poweful or more powerfull than iOS Safari or the Android browser. But they don't have the market share and designers (and the bean counters who control development budgets) could care less about low market share platforms and browsers. I can't really blame them, it's not cost effective to develop for or test against a platform that accounts for a single digit percentage of traffic.
Fortunately, some web publishers do expose URLs that will let you load the bleeding edge webapp goodness on any device. I've started to try to find as many of these URLs as I can and test them against all the reasonably capable browsers I have access to, which is currently the Symbian Belle browser, Opera Mobile 12.0 on Symbian and Android, Firefox Mobile Beta 11.0 on Android, the WebOS 220.127.116.11 browser, bada 1.0 browser and Opera Mini Next on Android and Symbian.
I'll be adding the URLs of Android and iOS webapps that work on one or more of my alternate browsers to the WapReview Mobile Directory. To distinguish them from legacy webapps from the same Publisher I'm adding "Touch" to the site's name. Today, I added the following Touch apps to the Directory. I'll add more in upcoming editions of the regular "Found on the Mobile Web" feature here on WapReview.
Facebook Touch touch.facebook.com Advanced mobile version of Facebook that's served to the Android, bada and iPhone browsers by default. Also works in Firefox Mobile and Opera Mobile, the Symbian browser and, except for the check-in feature, the WebOS 18.104.22.168. (Pixi, Pixi Plus) browser (the WebOS browser has no geoLocation support).
Google+ Touch m.google.com/app/plus/?force=1 The rich mobile web version of Google Plus with check in and the ability to create circles, which are missing in the basic mobile version. Served by default to Android, the iPhone and Firefox Mobile. Also works well in the WebOS, Symbian, bada and Opera Mobile browsers. There's a link to this version at the bottom of the basic mobile version (m.google.com/app/plus/x/) that's served to unsupported browsers.
Google News Touch www.google.com/news/i The iPhone and Android version of Google News. It uses geolocation to serve local news based on where you are and has a a more attractive layout, more content per page and more and larger images than the basic mobile versiion at news.google.com/m/news.
IPhone, Android, WebOS and bada browser visitors to news.google.com are redirected to this touch version. But it also works well in Opera Mobile, Opera Mini, Firefox Mobile and Symbian browsers it you enter the URL
Google Calendar Touch www.google.com/calendar/gp Google Calendar optimized for advanced mobile browsers. Looks and works more like a native calendar app with separate day and month views. Served by default to the iPhone, bada, WebOS and Android browsers. Works well in the Symbian browser. Minor rendering issues but usable in Firefox Mobile, Opera Mobile and Opera Mini.
Google Reader Touch www.google.com/reader/i/ Enhanced mobile version of Google Reader served by default to Android, bada, iPhone, WebOS and Firefox Mobile browsers. Also works well in Opera Mobile and the Symbian browser. It's usable in Opera Mini but slow because expanding items requires a server round trip
Not everyone of these iPhone/Android apps works perfectly in every unsupported browser. There can be, mostly minor, performance or rendering issues, but I generally prefer these Touch webapps to their legacy equivalents in all the browsers mentioned in this post.
I had to send the N9 back to NokiaConnects on Friday as my two week trial was up. Before returning the phone I installed Firefox Mobile on the N9 and created this video showing the installation process and Firefox mobile running on the device.
Firefox Mobile on MeeGo/Harmattan is not an official release from Mozilla. Luckily for us a developer named shmerl has packaged the latest Firefox Mobile nightly build for Harmattan and posted a link to it on forum.meego.com.
Here's how to install Firefox mobile on your N9 or N950.
Download Shmerl's latest build. You can find it on his download server at shmerl.freeshell.net/dev/fennec/meego_harmattan/nightly/ or at My-Meego.com. The version I downloaded was labeled as 9.0 but I see that there is now a new 10.0 release available which includes a fix for a sync bug. You can follow the progress of Firefox for Harmattan and find installation and configuration tips, changelogs and announcements of new releases in this forum-meego.com thread.
Installing Firefox mobile using the N9 browser doesn't work. It looks like the download server is using the wrong mime type causing the browser to display the binary file as text gobbledygook with no way to save it. You have to download Firefox to a PC and copy the file to the N9 using a cable and the phone's USB mass storage mode.
By default Harmattan only allows apps to be installed from the Nokia Store. To allow installing apps from the file system: Open Settings, go to “Applications”, tap “Installations” and tap “Allow installations from non-store sources” to enable it
Once the file is on the device fire up a file manager. The N9 doesn't come with one, I used the free File Mangaer Beta from the Nokia Store. Navigate to the folder where you saved the Firefox Mobile .deb file and tap the filename to install.
I found Firefox Mobile was stable on the N9 with competivite page loading speed and rendering. Its best features are support for the thousands of Firefox Mobile Add-ons and also Firefox Sync, which keeps your bookmarks, history, passwords and open tabs synchronized with Firefox on all your PCs and phones. I can live with the quirky Firefox Mobile UI, although I don't see that it has any advantages over a typical tab and menu driver browser interface. But I'm disappointed that Firefox Mobile doesn't reflow text after zooming.
Using the N9 was a great experience, I will definitely miss it. The N9's hardware is nice but what really sets it apart is the Linux based MeeGo/Harmattan OS's openness, powerful multitasking and the Swipe user interface. Swipe is the first really great new mobile UI I've seen since the original iPhone. To me the N9 heralds the return of Nokia's design and engineering excellence after the stumbles of the last few years. I'm very disappointed in Nokia's decision to end MeeGo development and limit the N9's distribution to relatively few countries.