Windows Mobile and Linux phones are likely initial candidates for the browser in part because those operating systems share code with their corresponding operating systems on computers, making it easier to build the mobile version of the browser, said Doug Turner, a Mozilla engineer working on the mobile project.
Symbian, however, is totally different from any of the desktop operating systems and so would require more work, he said. "But because Symbian has such a wide market, it may make sense to do that," he said. Symbian, which runs on Nokia's phones, has the bulk of smartphone market share, even though its presence in the U.S. is small.
On Tuesday, Mozilla Vice President of Engineering Mike Schroepfer announced on his blog that the company had decided to develop a new mobile version of Firefox. He said Mozilla hadn't determined which phones the browser would work on. Judging from the comments left after the post, a Symbian version of the browser is in big demand.
Regardless of the way that Mozilla prioritizes Firefox mobile compatibility, the beauty of Firefox is that it's open, Turner said. "It's not like Mozilla needs to bless someone to build something," he said. Developers will be free to build Firefox mobile for Symbian, or any other mobile operating system, if Mozilla doesn't. That's happened in the desktop environment, where developers have built Firefox browsers for very old operating systems, he said.
The browser will be based on Mozilla2, the new Mozilla platform expected to come out in 2009. By then, a number of other mobile browsers including Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari will have been available for years.
Mozilla isn't worried about the competition, though. Internet Explorer once had nearly all of the market share in the PC, Turner noted. "So it's not like we haven't been in this fight before," he said.
Plus, the smart phone market is still relatively small, so Mozilla actually won't be late to market, said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with IDC. In 2006, smartphones made up about 8 percent of the market, he said.
In addition, there's no dominant browser yet in the smart phone market, he said. And because mobile browsers could use some improvements, there's opportunity for a new entrant. The iPhone, which runs Apple's Safari browser, has shown some innovation in the way that users can navigate Web pages by sweeping their finger across the screen to drag the page and tapping to zoom. That capability requires close integration between software and hardware, but if Mozilla could work closely with a device manufacturer, it might be able to produce features like that, he said.
Mozilla also has a leg up because of its strong market share in desktops, Hazelton said. Firefox is a recognized brand and users may want to mirror their PC experience on their smartphones, he said.