Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category

File Under: Browsers, Mobile

Preview Coming for Chrome for Android With New Beta Channel

Chrome for Android beta channel. Image: Scott Gilbertson

Want to be the first on your block to get new features for Chrome for Android? Google has a new beta channel release available just for you.

Starting today, you can install a beta channel release of Chrome for Android on any device running Android 4.0 or better. Note that it appears that you need to follow that link to get the beta channel release. Searching in the Google Play Store did not show the beta channel. The beta channel can be installed alongside the normal release channel.

The current release for the beta channel is Chrome 25, which is a significant update for the mobile version of Chrome, adding support for the new CSS Flexible Box Model syntax, dynamic viewport units (useful for responsive designs) and CSS calc(). The Android version of Chrome also gets the same updated IndexDB and CSS Filters support we looked at in the desktop release.

The beta channel release should also be a bit faster. The Chromium blog claims that improvements to the V8 JavaScript engine give the browser a 25 to 30 percent improvement on Google’s Octane benchmark tests.

The beta channel for Android offers some new tricks in Chrome’s developer tools, notably “big improvements in measuring your mobile performance with the Timeline’s frames mode.” Google also says it’s easier to navigate and edit your active scripts in the revamped Sources panel.

For more details on everything that’s new in the beta channel of Chrome for Android be sure to read through the Chromium blog’s announcement.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile

Mozilla Offers Sneak Peek at New Tricks in Firefox for Android

Image: Mozilla

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has, thus far, been short on jaw-dropping new Android hardware. But fear not, Android fans, while new devices may still be just over the horizon, Mozilla has a sneak peek at a few new tricks coming soon to Firefox for Android.

To get the new year started Mozilla has released Firefox 18 for Android, which you can grab from the Google Play Store.

This release brings search suggestion to Firefox for Android, along with new phishing and malware protection. Once you opt-in to the new search suggestions, Firefox will — much like Google’s search page — start suggesting search terms as you type, making it faster to find what you’re after.

Like its desktop cousin, Firefox for Android will also now warn you whenever you visit a site that may be used for malware or phishing to protect users from malicious websites.

While Firefox 18 is a welcome upgrade for Android users, Mozilla has much more coming soon. The company recently posted a sneak peek at what’s in store for Firefox for Android in 2013.

The highlights include support for Private Browsing mode in the Android incarnation of Firefox. Private Browsing is getting an overhaul on the desktop side as well, with Firefox 20 expected to include a way to open Private Browsing tabs right alongside your normal tabs.

Presumably the new approach to Private Browsing will also ship with Firefox for Android, rather than the current, more cumbersome way of browsing privately, which requires hiding your current windows and opening an entirely new set of private windows.

Private Browsing is often dismissed as “porn mode,” but in truth there are plenty of uses beyond simply keeping your cookies and browsing history private. Think simultaneous logins, debugging with a “clean” visit to a site and anything else that requires separate cookies or sessions.

Next up on the Firefox for Android agenda is more device and language support. Unfortunately, the Mozilla blog doesn’t say which models might be added to the list of devices Firefox for Android supports, noting only that Mozilla is “bringing support for more devices all the time.”

The third sneak peek Mozilla is offering means more customization for Firefox on mobile — themes and more start page options will be coming soon.

Naturally, these three things aren’t the only changes due for Firefox for Android in 2013, but hopefully, now that the under-the-hood migration to native Android tools is done, Mozilla can focus its attention on new features and speed improvements.

File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Mobile

New Simulator Showcases Mozilla’s Coming Firefox OS

Firefox OS’s lock screen, app screen and Twitter app. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Mozilla has released version 1.0 of its Firefox OS Simulator, a new add-on for Firefox that makes it easy for web developers to start building apps for Mozilla’s coming mobile Firefox OS.

Despite the 1.0 status, Mozilla’s Hacks blog still refers to the Firefox OS Simulator as a “preview” — largely because Firefox OS itself is still in development. The Simulator, however, is much less buggy than the release I tested last month (and the problems with the Linux and Windows builds have been resolved).

If you’d like to get started building apps for Firefox OS, the Simulator now has an official page on Mozilla’s Add-Ons site. Once it’s installed and running you’ll get a preview of what Firefox OS will be like on a mobile device.

Locked out of Apple’s iOS due to the platform’s developer limitations and only recently beginning to create a truly competitive browser on Android, Mozilla’s long-term mobile plan is to create its own mobile operating system built entirely on open web technologies.

Although the company has since switched to the “Firefox OS” moniker, the original name, Boot2Gecko, neatly captures Mozilla’s take on the mobile operating system — essentially turning the Firefox web browser into an operating system.

That means building apps for Firefox OS is just like building apps for the web. HTML, CSS and JavaScript form the foundation and emerging web standards like WebRTC help bridge the gap between Firefox OS and device hardware.

To run the Simulator in Firefox open up the “Simulator Manager” by selecting the Firefox OS Simulator option in the Web Developer menu. Once the Simulator Manager is running you’ll see controls to start and stop the Simulator and a JS Console option to see any error messages as you build your app. If you need help getting started, this video from Mozilla walks you through the process step by step:

For more on how to get started using the Simulator and building apps for Firefox OS, see our earlier post as well as the Mozilla Hacks blog, especially the very thorough tutorial from Mozilla community member Luca Greco, who walks through nearly the entire process of building and testing an app on Firefox OS.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Multimedia

Firefox for Android, Now With Video That ‘Just Works’

H.264 video in Firefox for Android. Image: Scott Gilbertson.

Mozilla has added support for the H.264 video codec to its Firefox for Android mobile web browser.

Right now support is limited to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and Samsung phones running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Mozilla is working to fix some bugs that currently prevent H.264 from working on other devices. Support for older Gingerbread and Honeycomb Android devices is still in the works.

This is the first time Mozilla has released a web browser with support for the popular H.264 codec. The company previously refused to support H.264, citing royalty and licensing concerns. Instead Mozilla touted Google’s WebM codec, which offers many of the benefits of H.264 in a royalty-free package. Unfortunately for Firefox fans WebM has failed to gain ground against H.264.

Adobe’s Flash Player plugin can also play H.264 video and, until Adobe decided to abandon Flash for Android, that was Mozilla’s solution for H.264 video in Firefox for Android.

With WebM adoption lagging and Flash for Android dead, Mozilla found itself in a bind. Some estimates claim up to 80 percent of video on the web is encoded in H.264, forcing Mozilla to choose between supporting H.264 on Android or leaving Firefox users with no way to watch video on mobile devices. Fortunately for Firefox users, Mozilla decided to be practical and support H.264.

Technically the new H.264 support is not a part of Firefox, rather the browser is tapping into Android’s underlying H.264 support to decode video. That means royalty payments are covered by hardware makers, not Mozilla.

I tested Firefox for Android’s H.264 on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.1 and for the most part H.264 video worked without issue. Some popular video sharing sites, however, appear to be doing OS/browser detection rather than feature detection — I’m looking at you Vimeo — which means that, even though your phone can play the video, Vimeo thinks it can’t.

Hopefully Vimeo and other sites doing the same thing will fix this soon because Mozilla is planning to bring the same H.264 support to the desktop. As with Firefox for Android, desktop Firefox won’t have its own decoder, but will rely on OS-level H.264 decoders. For end users though the result will be the same — video that just works.

File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Mobile

Mozilla Tempts Mobile Developers With Firefox OS Simulator

Firefox OS’s home screen, dialer and web browser. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Mozilla has released a new version of its experimental Firefox OS Simulator. The Firefox OS Simulator (which also goes by the nerdtastic nickname r2d2b2g) is a new add-on for Firefox that makes it easy for web developers who would like to get their hands dirty building apps for Mozilla’s coming mobile Firefox OS.

Mozilla’s Firefox OS is still in the very early alpha stages, but if you’d like to test your apps in the latest version of the Simulator, head on over to the download page (note that there are known issues running the simulator on Linux and Windows XP).

Firefox OS is Mozilla’s answer to the question how does Firefox stay relevant in an increasingly mobile world? Locked out of Apple’s iOS due to the platform’s developer limitations and only recently beginning to create a truly competitive browser on Android, Mozilla’s long term mobile plan is to create its own mobile operating system built entirely on open web technologies.

Although the company has since switched to the “Firefox OS” moniker, the original name, Boot2Gecko, neatly captures Mozilla’s take on the mobile operating system — essentially turning the Firefox web browser into an operating system.

Applications built for Firefox OS use nothing more than web development tools — everything is made with HTML, CSS and JavaScript — which then run atop Firefox’s Gecko rendering engine.

To make it possible to create full-featured mobile apps with only HTML and other web tools, Mozilla is relying heavily on device-level APIs to tap into everything from dialing phone numbers to listing contacts, taking photos and getting Wi-Fi information. Not all of the APIs Firefox OS uses are web standards yet, though Mozilla has submitted most of them to the W3C for consideration.

Mozilla hardly has a monopoly on using web tools to build mobile apps; that was Apple’s original plan for iOS and it’s also exactly what tools like Phonegap or Cordova allow you to do for iOS, Android and other mobile platforms. The difference with Firefox OS is that you don’t need to package your app up in a native container — there’s no need for Phonegap and its ilk.

While Firefox OS may use familiar web development technologies and may run on the same Gecko engine that already powers the Firefox web browser, developers still need a way to test their apps in a mobile environment, which is where the Firefox OS Simulator comes in.

To get started with the Simulator, first open up the “Simulator Manager” by selecting the new Firefox OS Simulator option in the Firefox Web Developer menu. In the Simulator Manager you’ll find controls to start and stop the Simulator and a JS Console option to see any error messages as you develop.

For more on how to get started using the Simulator and building apps for Firefox OS, see the Mozilla Hacks blog, especially the very thorough tutorial from Mozilla community member Luca Greco, who walks through nearly the entire process of building and testing an app on Firefox OS.