Clearly, it is only the beginning, said the product manager Barbara Bermes, who is responsible for Firefox Mobile. She explains in the interview how Mozilla can hold on its own in the mobile market.
Barbara Bermes is a product manager for Firefox Mobile. The native German works in Mozilla’s branch in Toronto, Canada. To do her tasks, she wants to, “put herself into the user’s shoes and to know where mobile trends are.” We talked with her among other things like whether there is still room for Mozilla in Apple and Google mobile devices.
Question: Mozilla still has problems on mobile devices. Chrome and Safari dominate the statistics. So is Firefox history? And how do you deal with this?
Barbara Bermes: One idea is the cross-app partnerships. Android does not have problems selecting default programs for example for e-mail, where iOS is much more closed. Our idea was to give the user this option on the app level when it is not at the operating system level. For example, if you click on a contact mail address in Firefox for iOS, you can choose the mail program. This is now included in version 6 of the browser. We are working with some mail providers, including Outlook. They opt-in once, then the browser remembers the setting.
A while ago, you released a second browser for iOS, Firefox Clear, internationally known as Firefox Focus. This is, of course, a bit confusing.
We follow the idea of the single-purpose app. Browsers are like Swiss pocket knives, you can do everything with it. Sometimes you just need a corkscrew. The first question is always, Is this what the users need? And there are always more ideas. How about, for example, we take mobile video browsing. This is huge, so many people consume videos with their mobile browser. Perhaps this is an experiment worth making such a browser. We want to build a browser for any purpose, if the users want it.
So, Mozilla will not make one but maybe three or four mobile browsers in the future?
This can be good if the users accept it.
For all those who have not seen the Focus for iOS app yet: Can you describe the app again?
It is roughly comparable to normal Firefox in private mode, combined with tracking protection. We also use the same provider for the block-lists, which is Disconnect. Functionally, you can have it all with normal Firefox, but it’s a different approach and less cumbersome. It has a minimalist user interface with no tab or history and is only for one purpose, private surfing.
Focus began as a privacy app and has then been upgraded to a full-fledged browser – an interesting decision. How did it happen?
We have listened to the users. They gave us the feedback for iOS that ad blocking would fit well with Firefox – which is quite a challenge because of Apple’s App Guidelines. Our idea Clearly stands for privacy – why don’t we take it and make it bigger. It has made sense to combine that into an app.
Has clarity been a significant distributed or was it rather an experiment?
Focus is used very much, but it does not take away users from Firefox for iOS, which is also growing steadily. It contributes to our growth on iOS. That’s why we’re doing this now for Android.
How far are you with this project?
We are currently actively developing. We are expected to be finished by the end of April. As with iOS, the browser will be in several languages.
Clearly, it is a good idea for data protection-minded users – there was criticism of the pre-defined collection of usage data. Did you see this critique as relevant?
We listen to what people say about our product. We know we have a good attitude towards data protection. But it was important for us to test the product at an early stage to find out whether the users wanted it at all. With that data, we simply want to find out how to make Focus more accessible accordingly. This is a clearly defined data collection option, and users have the option to turn it off.
In other words, you have heard the criticism, but you are in favor of your approach?
We communicated everything, even before the criticism arose.
This idea with the mobile video browser – is this a concrete plan?
I would like to continue researching to be sure that the users want something. But we talked internally about it and will say more about it, if it becomes more concrete. We definitely see users on mobile devices consuming a lot of media content and it makes sense to help them discover media on different platforms rather than installing an app for each one. Perhaps because a download manager would be added, in order to save videos easier. But these are now only ideas, no concrete plans.
Android and iOS feel much more closed than a PC and the browser is an integral part of it. Is there still room for Mozilla in Google or/and Apple?
We see with the single-purpose apps a very great opportunity to be there. There is still plenty of room for ideas that we can try. Last year, more mobile device users were surfing internet than on the desktop. There are the users, and there they will always be the next 5 to 10 years. There is still room.
They have repeatedly said, “We give the user the choice.” Personally, I think that’s great, but there are a lot of technically uninvolved users who do not want to have a choice that is overwhelmed. How do you deal with that? Do you make niche products for those who can handle technology with confidence?
Mozilla stands for the web as a public resource and places the user in the center. To give the users a choice – those who want to have a choice – is very important to us.
The development on the web goes further; Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Progressive Web Apps, changed media usage, etc. How do you see the future of the mobile web?
I do not want to speculate much about the future, but the mobile web will always be very important – whether in the form of browsers or something else.