I just watched the Mozilla video showing a demo of their first visions on what a mobile Firefox browser should look like. I love it already. Not because of the way it looks or the cool technology underneath. I love it because when listening to the screencast Aza Raskin talks about the user experience all the time.
Mozilla has clearly looked and thought about the current mobile browsing experience. It sucks on anything but the iPhone. Apple has set a totally new standard with their multi touch browsing experience. Mozilla takes that experience and adds two powerful features to it.
- All input activities are taking into account that the user has relatively big fingers compared to the mobile touch screen. That means Mozilla will be spending an enormous amount of time thinking about the best possible input controls. In the demo we see bigger buttons, and neat tricks to avoid typing in letters if possible. Best of all, Mozilla is showing us that the entire screen can be used for content while there is still an intuitive way of finding the navigation buttons.
- The browser will be open source developed. This is an incredibly powerful force Mozilla brings along. If anything, the mobile development phase we are entering now will be a fight over usability. Apple has set a new standard and others will add to that. But Mozilla has by far the most open development environment thinkable. It will attract a lot of smart people and experience to the browser development. They will be testing all kinds of usability schemes and doing that in the open will help them find the best possible user experience.
We can see the same thing happening with Google’s Android. Where Mozilla is the king of open source browsing, Google will try and become the king of mobile operating systems with Android. I think this is a very compelling move. Apple has build the “coolest” mobile handheld device so far. There isn’t one that can match that experience. But there are now a few strong competitors entering this domain. And where the Mobile handset manufacturers have mostly lost the capabilities to design a unique user experience, these new initiatives will provide us exactly that.
The interesting thing about this is that we can see a new era of mobile connectedness arise. Most business models in the mobile space currently fail due to huge barriers. Data plans by the operators put incredible strains on the cost factor for the user. But another issue is the overall usability. The mobile handset manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung and their competitors have spend the last decade building more and more features into their handsets without a fundamental redesign of the user experience. They have chosen to ignore this issue. But the newcomers on the block have a totally different approach. Each of them has thrown the current design principles out of the window and started all over with the user experience in mind. See an earlier post I wrote about that topic called “The mobile web experience needs fundamental rethinking.”
The fight on the mobile platform will be a fight for usability. And already we know the clear winner. It will be the user.
Now all I can hope for is that these developments don’t forget that the mobile phone is primarily an interaction device. Next to this great browsing experience I still want to be able to make phone calls and send people messages. And yes, we do need to enter text there. That issue hasn’t been resolved yet, even though Apple took a good first shot at it. It’s why I wrote that the iPhone is probably one of the worst mobile phones I ever used. Not because of it’s browsing capabilities. But because it is really hard to use the thing as a phone when you are physically on the move. Try walking and typing at the same time, you’ll understand what I mean.
Now where can I get me one of those mobile Mozilla browsers 😉
Effectively we’re look at the death of the traditional cellphone, or at least the merging of the idea of a cellphone and PDA.
In some ways I find that a pity. I’m a cellphone luddite. I want no more than the ability to make/receive calls, and very occasionally text message.
It’s great to have an extended user-friendly functionality as a general principle. In terms of mobile technology I do wonder how often its used. I’d love to see some statistics of how much iPhone users utilise the functions of their handset beyond phone/text/music.
I’m curious as to how much of that is down to the user experience – which does need a rethink as you suggest – and how much is down to the fact that the majority of cell phone users generally aren’t that interest in functionality beyond a phone (…and possibly ‘looking cool’).
Robin, right now over 90% of Mobile operator income is based on Voice and SMS. That is an incredible amount of revenue, making social media or online advertisement look like very small businesses. So yes, the mobile phone is used mostly for interaction (calling, messaging). Data plans are a major barrier, but the complexity of the device too.
The promise of the mobile device as a web access device has been around for many years. European Telco’s almost went bankrupt on it when they eagerly bought UMTS frequencies. Only to find out the user didn’t actually use data services.
But I still have no doubts that eventually this will change. One major barrier is now being taken, the usability is increasing really fast now with Apple, Google and Mozilla entering this arena. There will be new interfaces, but maybe even more important much better services that integrate into this better user experience. People will try that out, first on WiFi (no costs), later using the Mobile network.
But the Mobile Operators still hold another important key to success. Together they run the most successful revenue making walled garden known to man. And they won’t just lower the tariffs to a level that mobile web access becomes available to everyone.
Vodafone in the UK are currently running an add campaign trying to entice users on to a particular tariff as you get free “unlimited Facebook”.
The writing is on the wall. They realise the impact the mobile web is having and are starting to cash in.