Firefox 4 for Mobile Enters Beta

Oct 08, 2010

Enhanced speed, responsiveness, and stability come to Mozilla's Fennec platform.

The Mozilla Project announced the release of Firefox 4 beta 1 for Maemo and Android. Significant improvements in the performance and responsiveness of the mobile browser are two of the most instantly noticeable changes in beta 1. Especially when pinching to zoom, moving around a webpage, and rendering zoomed images.

This is because of Electrolysis and Layers, a pair of optimization tools that Mozilla is banking on to supercharge Fennec for these platforms. Electrolysis made its first appearance in the Fennec alpha and in the desktop version of Firefox, beginning with 3.6.4. Users can thank Electrolysis for protecting against browser crashes when a plugin fails because it splits processes across multiple processors, allowing for the components of Firefox to be addressed independently. In Fennec, Electrolysis works in a similar, but scaled down way, by separating the browser interface and rendering process to run independently from one another.

Layers allows for hardware accelerated rendering on mobile devices and it removes the canvas-tile-cache rendering typically used when panning and zooming in a mobile browser (for a great example of this, see Opera Mini). Layers can instead use XUL elements. For even more detail on Layers and Electrolysis, check out Mozilla member Mark Finkle's blog.

Hardware compatibility is another major issue in the Fennec browser. Mozilla says that Fennec supports ARMv7 features such as Thumb-2 and NEON, but that running the app on low-end Android phones and specifically, Samsung's build of the OS isn't advisable -- at least until the Samsung 2.2 image is available. Instead, the programmers are focusing more on high-end smartphones, as they see the devices as being the industry norm by this time next year.

Personally, I've been playing with the app on a Motorola Droid 2, which is a reasonably powerful Android phone with a 1 Ghz OMAP processor and the factory version of the OS installed and despite multiple attempts at reinstalling Fennec beta 1, I cannot get the browser to recognize input from the slide-out keyboard and I cannot raise the touchscreen keypad. This was an issue with the alpha I tested as well. However, the app tested fine, if not a little unresponsive on Rikki Kite's stock HTC Incredible, which is similar in specs to a Droid 2.

Regardless, the app is in beta so these types of issues are to be expected. Download your own version of the Fennec beta 1 at and see for yourself.

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