Mozilla has a gap in its product line that Opera not only fills, but does so excellently. I’m talking of course about the mobile phone/PDA web browser segment. As 3G and GPRS networks are becoming more and more commonly used, web browsing on mobile devices is become commonplace. Yet, Opera has a virtual monopoly on the Symbian OS web browser market.
Not that I’m complaining, their Opera 6.10 for Symbian OS (which came free with my Nokia 6600), and Opera 6.20 which I downloaded (also free for my phone model) are both amazing. They render websites designed for normal computers in a very readable format, thank’s to Opera’s Small-Screen Rendering technology. At the same time, if I want, I can view them exactly as they’d render on a normal sized PC, and am able to scroll left and right to do so.
As if this wasn’t enough, Opera has figured out how to turn their mobile web browser (optionally) into a subscription product without shafting the user and delivering no value for lots of money. Opera’s Mobile Accelerator is a proxy server hosted by Opera which strips (X)HTML content of elements that Opera can’t render, compresses images to much smaller sizes (who needs high-res on a 2″ screen?), and optimises the page so it renders quickly on low bandwidth connections. This is pretty smart, and it seems to work well too. I’m still in my 14-day trial period, but I’ve already decided that I’m going to purchase the service when those 14 days are up. At USD13 per 3 months, it’s very reasonably priced too. This is especially cool for those users who have metered bandwidth on their GPRS connection. Luckily in Beijing I’ve been able to get unlimited GPRS for around USD25 per month. But I think even the fast pageloads make this worth it, because GPRS isn’t exactly a speed demon to begin with.
So Opera has picked up a new and very satisfied user. I’m of course still very partial to Firefox on regular PCs. However, now that I’ve entered the consumer marketplace for mobile web browsers, it’s clear to me that Opera is the only company who has any real product aimed at this market. Luckily, they’ve still managed to innovate and put out a great product.
What does this mean for Mozilla? My reading of the situation is that Mozilla has a gap in it’s product line. Mozilla has an excellent, mature, cross-platform rendering engine in Gecko. Mozilla has talented FE developers. I think it’s time that Mozilla once again pioneered it’s way into uncharted territory.
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out that the Minimo project exists to fill this void, but after looking at its site, it still looks very much in its infancy. It also looks like nobody is working on it anymore. Maybe it would be a good idea to revive it and somehow gauge OEM interest in a Gecko/Minimo-based browser. One thing to note is that the Minimo project appears to have rather heavy hardware requirements. It’s targeted at machines that have 32-64MB of RAM. My Nokia, for example, has only 8MB of RAM (total, not free) and a lowly 104MHz ARM9 processor. There’s a pretty large gap between Minimo’s target requirements and the mobile hardware that’s out there today.