In the early days, when a person ‘surfed the web’, she got up, walked to a computer, and then spent her total attention on what she was doing. This computer was likely to be shared by the entire household, and sometimes she did this with a friend. In other words, the web browser turned a large and expensive computer into a replacement for the television.
Today, that same user is on a couch, looking at her phone with one eye while simultaneously watching Westworld and attempting to hold a conversation with her significant other. The apps she uses have evolved to be better at dealing with a human society that attempts to multitask at an ever increasing scale by being more contextual, more noticeable when needed, and less dependent on the use of her eyes and hands.
In contrast, mobile browsers remain a miniature version of the browser you use on your desktop computer. They serve a valuable purpose, but they demand a lot of attention- an app that depends on precise text entry and returns pages of results to sift through is not one that lends itself well to being used when you’re doing something else.
In order to bring the web to more of our users on mobile, we need to think of alternatives to the address bar, and alternatives to search boxes. These experiences need to be beholden to users and not to the commercial interests of the app developers, and they’re going to be quite different from existing mobile browsers.
While there are certainly hurdles to launching new apps into a crowded market, the beauty of the web is that the answer to any question that you imagine has already been answered. The tragedy of the web is that it’s hard to find the answers to the questions you haven’t imagined, and expanding your imagination has only gotten harder now that both search and social networks strive to give you a heavily filtered version of the web. Our Context Graph initiative is based on this idea that connecting users to the vastness of the web is a task that existing tools aren’t well suited to accomplish.
Project Prox is our first mobile experiment in this area- it’s an attempt to merge the best aspects of the app ecosystem with the diversity of the web, and we feel we are uniquely suited to deliver this content in the most delightful and efficient way because our primary goal is to make the web more useful on the go, not to generate revenue.
Prox follows on the heels of our successful Firefox Focus app launch, a “disposable” browser that has a giant button to erase history, cookies and other identifying behaviors with a single tap.
Since we don’t expect success with everything that we try, we intend to continue experiments and validation for new app ideas, just as we do with new Firefox features using Test Pilot. Product Hypotheses, as well as a plan for validating them, will be a key part of the process for developing our new ideas. Prox isn’t the only idea we’re shipping this year, we’re also thinking hard about answering new questions, like how one can easily research and compare products found on the web, or how a slice of a user’s web history can be shared as a playlist for others to learn from and enjoy.
Because the experiments will be more focused than our flagship Firefox Mobile browsers, we can take bigger risks- and apply what we learn to Firefox as we go. Firefox for Mobile isn’t standing still either- we’ll continue to advance the traditional mobile browser with a class-leading experience and features not found elsewhere.
This is a new journey for the Firefox team, and uncertainty is to be expected. To have a chance at succeeding, we’ll embrace this uncertainty, kill things that aren’t working, and nurture the things that are. In all cases, we’re going to build products that wouldn’t happen on their own and strive to solve real problems on the internet. As the web evolves and moves to new places, so should we.