March 21, 2011

Firefox 4 for mobile - Release Candidate

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The Release Candidate for Firefox 4 for mobile (Maemo and Android) is out, and, if I may be so bold, this is a pretty darned good one.

I last wrote an update about what was new, user-experience-wise, 3 pre-releases ago for beta 3. As you would expect, the focus has been decreasingly on new features since that time, concentrating more and more attention on speed, size, responsiveness, and stability. These latter areas have benefited enormously; Firefox starts faster, pages render faster, you can pan more smoothly, and there's far less "checkerboarding." You can move the app, including your browsing profile, to your phone's SD card, meaning that the browser, already much trimmed down, is nice and svelte on your phone's internal memory.

On top of all of this, though, there are a view visual and behavioral changes in the RC worth pointing out. Here they are!

Text reflow on zoom
A fundamental problem with shrinking big-screen-designed webpages down for viewing on small screens is that their text is often just too small to read. Zooming in helps, but, often, by the time the text is big enough to read, the block you're interested in has expanded past the screen-edges. There are a couple of approaches that browsers can take to remedy this; the one commonly used on Android is reformatting the text, on double-tap zoom, to be of a more readable size and layout. We've included a version of the zoom technique in the RC:

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You can turn on the Reformat Text on Zoom behavior in Firefox's preferences, here:

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Slimmed down Form Helper and Find In Page
A touchscreen phone's on-screen keyboard and its accompanying suggestion/auto-correction bar(s) take up a lot of the available screen-space. To help users retain more of what remains for web-content, we pared back the on-screen presence of Firefox's form helper and find-in-page bar.

The form helper went from a full-screen-width bar housing previous/next buttons and occasionally-present Firefox form history entries to just the two buttons floating in the bottom right-hand corner; form history, when available, floats above or below the form field in use.

Similarly, find-in-page has gone from a full-screen-width bar to a floating widget in the bottom right-hand corner.

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Form helper with form history
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Find-in-page


Copy and Paste in form fields
We've had copy, paste, and select all in mobile Firefox's URL field for a while, but now you can use them in HTML form fields as well. Just tap-and-hold to bring up the menu:

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Character Encoding
For speakers of a couple of the world's languages, it's extremely useful to be override the character encoding that a page claims to use, usually because the page is mistaken, rendering the page unreadable. Now, if you need to, you can specify the character encoding you'd like to use to display a given page:

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This is a great example of a a split in Firefox's worldwide userbase: it's a feature that is never used by a large percentage of Firefox's users, but is absolutely essential to another large percentage. To keep the Site Menu down to minimal set of options, Character Encoding isn't displayed by default. You can turn it on in Preferences, here:

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So, those are the big ones. Somewhere along the way from Beta 3, the team has also added

  • support for restartless add-ons
  • more sensible UI scaling for MDPI screens
  • some UI layout adjustments for small tablets like the Galaxy Tab
  • scroll indicators
  • iframe scrolling
  • a more informative design for the "New Tab Opened" pop-up
  • Android-style toaster alerts
  • a revised style for the Sync setup dialog

Get the Release Candidate (Android | N900 and try it out if you'd like to help test!

Posted by madhava at 05:25 PM

March 08, 2011

If the shoe Fitts

With Firefox 4 for Mobile to be released very soon indeed, we've naturally been getting things moving on what comes next. There's a lot to consider, ranging from already-concrete refinements of the product to larger and still-forming ideas around what a mobile browser can and should be. That is, as they say in the business, a lot of mockups.

So, I'm very pleased to announce that our mobile user-experience team is growing by one and to welcome Brian Dils to Mozilla.

Brian has several years of user-experience design behind him, including product work at PayPal, Squeezebox at Logitech, and, most recently, Adobe, where he worked on the design of Acrobat and Reader for Android. He has a Master's in HCI Design from Indiana University - Bloomington.

You can find Brian as "briandils" in your favorite UX- or mobile-themed IRC channel, on his blog, and by the small-star-equivalent radio output of his many mobile devices. Please join me in welcoming Brian!

Posted by madhava at 04:47 PM