Mozilla is on a “massive hiring spree” in their mobile engineering team according to a BusinessWeek article. The non-profit company, which was born out of a desire to give consumers a non-Internet Explorer option for the desktop, is now racing to come up with a compelling enough mobile solution that will shift browser usage away from what Google provides in Android. Currently you can download Mozilla’s Firefox browser in Android, but with only about 5.4 million downloaded copies and around 200 million Android devices in the world, Mozilla has yet to make a significant impact in the mobile browser scene.
In 2012, expect to see faster release cycles of Firefox for Android plus a much improved version, thanks to the 250+ person engineering team now employed at Mozilla that focus specifically on mobile. Also expect to hear about a deal, early in 2012, that will preload the Mozilla browser onto certain Android phones. Forcing consumers to use a certain piece of software by offering it to them out of the box is one way to increase market share.
But if you think about it, most consumers don’t care about what browser they use because the preloaded Android browser is good enough. Power-users know that there are a dozen or so choices available that offer a different browsing experience. Dolphin HD was one of the first with desktop-like tabs, Opera Mobile can do server-side rendering to improve pageload time, and Skyfire can strip off flash elements and load them in a separate environment for maximum performance.
Mozilla would need to offer something drastically different, and better, to appeal to the average consumer, and to make them aware that there is a better alternative to what comes preloaded on their phone. Right now Firefox for Android can do some cool tricks: it can sync passwords and bookmarks with your desktop browser, it can be customized with add-ons, and it has an improved tabbed interface. The other improvements are less appealing to most people (like themes, sharing features, and location-aware browsing) because they miss the point of mobile browsing: it should be fast, uncluttered, and easy. Perhaps with more hands on deck Mozilla will be able to build such a browser in 2012 in take a bite out of Google’s market share.