In addition, Mozilla designers have incorporated what they call the Awesome Bar–the smart address bar from the desktop version of Firefox that guesses which page a user wants when she types a letter or two, based on her bookmarks and browsing history. This feature has enhanced Fennec, says Sullivan, because typing on the browser is especially awkward. So Fennec’s Awesome Bar also infers when a person is typing keywords for a Web search.
Moreover, Fennec will be able to work with a Firefox research project called Weave that allows a person to remotely access his desktop Web-browsing history, bookmarks, and other preferences. “One of my goals with Fennec is to leverage the number of Firefox users we have on the desktop,” Sullivan says.
Future versions of the phone might even include a haptic interface, Sullivan says, meaning that the phone would vibrate, for example, when a user touches a button on its screen. “In the future, I think there’s some stuff there to make interactions feel more natural,” he adds, “to provide a sense of confirmation when you’ve clicked a button or when you’re doing a drag-and-drop function.” Voice control might be further off into the future, however. “I don’t know if the technology is quite there yet,” Sullivan says. “And we also need to be sensitive to licensing issues, as the most popular speech engines aren’t necessarily royalty-free.”
“I think Fennec has a good chance,” says Jeffrey Hammond, mobile analyst at Forrester Research. “The first question you have to ask is what platforms we expect to see in the mobile space, and from a smart-phone perspective, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that RIM, Windows Mobile, Symbian, iPhone OS, and Android all have a lot of momentum right now.” However, Hammond suspects that Fennec could find a footing on the Symbian operating system, which powers Nokia devices.
Mozilla’s Sullivan says that Fennec can’t run on Android right now because the Android Marketplace, where phone software can be downloaded, only accepts programs written in Java. If Android were supportive of applications that could run directly on the operating system without needing to be written in Java, Sullivan says, “then it’s interesting for us. We’ll have to see which direction Google goes with that.”
Hammond also believes that Fennec’s performance could make it attractive for makers of mobile operating systems. The browser’s combination of speed and small size could be crucial to its success, he says. “Speed is one reason why we’ve seen Firefox gain share in the enterprise, versus Internet Explorer,” Hammond says. Because of that, he adds, “I think Fennec has a good chance of gaining share.”
Hear more from Google at EmTech 2014.