Mozilla Firefox, iPhone and Apple

In an article entitled ‘Why no iPhone support for Firefox mobile beta?’, Matt Asay of C|Net’s ‘The Open Road’ asks why Mozilla is, essentially, wasting it’s time developing a mobile version of Firefox anything other than the iPhone.  He notes that Mozilla is only targeting the Nokia N810 tablet.  True enough, the only compiled version that they have made available is that version.  Like Mr. Asay, I have to wonder why they picked that particular platform.  However, the browser is open source and can be compiled for any platform-at least, in theory.

Mr. Asay also points out that they initially started with Windows Mobile, but that makes it even more irrelevant.  What?  Windows Mobile certainly has more phones and users than iPhone.  It is the third biggest platform, way ahead of iPhone. 

My favorite line from his article is: “Seriously, while the rest of the world is experimenting first on the iPhone, why is Mozilla futzing around with a niche platform like Nokia’s N810?”  The emphasis is mine.  My response to that is ‘Seriously?’   There are, believe it or not, at least three more platforms that have more users and devices AND developers than the iPhone.  While iPhone is the fastest GROWING platform, it is still a pretty minor player.  Even so, it does seem to get the lions share of press-at least in the United States.

While Mr. Asay sort of acknowledges that Apple would not allow Firefox on the phone, he fails to point out the whys.  Well, lets look at the whys…

When the SDK was announced last year, Apple laid down some rules.  Among those rules were:

  • No products that would compete with the in-built functionality (Safari, in this case)
  • No products that contained any kind of interpreter
  • No products that could harm the carrier’s network

So, the first restriction alone prohibits a mobile Firefox on the phone.  The second, while not prohibiting a browser out right, would severely limit the functionality.  That last point is probably worded wrong, but could, nonetheless hamper the browser.  I’m not sure it still applies either.  I did not take the time to research it further since the first two restrictions would kill off a competing browser anyway.

I’m sure the iPhone fanpeople will argue that only Apple could provide a great user experience (after all, just look at the desktop version of Firefox…it’s a usability nightmare) and that only Apple can guarantee that the application would not kill battery life or spawn one of those nasty life-sucking thread processes.  They might also argue that Apple knows best when it put out those rules to protect them.  After all, non-Apple developers just are not as good as the in-house developers, who know how to write such applications.  Poppycock.  I counter all of that drivel with this:  Apple is afraid that a competing product will be better than the one they spoon fed iPhone users.  They loose a bit of control.  Frankly, I am a bit surprised that they actually released the SDK.  I should not be, since the barriers to entry in the App Store are relatively high.  They claim a 96% acceptance rate.  I find that a bit high.  I also find the ‘800 million apps downloaded’ claim to be false, or, at least, exaggerated.   They have SHIPPED 17 million phones.  800 million just seems unrealistic.  Even it were remotely correct, how many of those apps are really used?  Just how many times would you use the fart application anyway?  Really?

Back to Mr. Asay’s article, he concludes it by saying that iPhone users shouldn’t have to ‘slum it’ with Apple’s iPhone enabled version of Safari.  He then suggests that pressure be put on Mozilla.  Huh.  Pressure Mozilla to get a FREE product on the iPhone.  Why?  What motivation is there for Mozilla to do this anyway?  If you really want a mediocre browser on the iPhone, then download the source, compile it for the iPhone and then jailbreak your device.  And if you wish to blame anyone for having to it that way, blame Apple. They developed the device and the operating system and they allow you to use the device (after all, you don’t really own it.  Just try to do something with it that Apple has not approved and you’ll get slapped with a DCMA notice to stop.)

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