On mobile devices, the battle between native and web apps is still going strong. Native is clearly winning if you look at the numbers, but that doesn’t mean that many aren’t betting big on the web.

Not surprisingly, the battle between native apps and the web has extended to the tablet market, even though tablets are far more capable web browsing devices than their mobile phone counterparts.

On the tablet, the battle takes place on numerous fronts. Many publishers have built native apps for tablets, and some have even gone so far as to block readers using tablets from their otherwise free websites.

And then there are companies like OnSwipe, which hope to make websites look and feel more like native app when viewed on devices like the iPad.

It’s questionable whether publishers have a real need to develop separate apps for tablets when their websites are often perfectly usable as is, and companies hoping to make websites function like native apps are arguably creating more annoyances than they’re eliminating.

So what, if anything is needed to make the web more compelling on tablet devices? The answer is, perhaps, ‘better tablet browsers.

Yesterday, Mozilla’s Ian Barlow announced that Firefox is trying to build just that. In a blog post, he explained, “Firefox for tablets is an evolution of its phone based predecessor, with some added enhancements that take advantage of a tablet’s larger screen size“.

To that end, the Firefox Mobile Team has made three changes to Firefox for Tablets:

  • The theme is inspired by Android Honeycomb design, making sure that the browser “looks right at home on Android 3.0“.
  • The browser’s Awesomebar has been updated, with tabs shifted to the left, allowing for easier access and more results above the keyboard.
  • Tabs are back, and for usability, their position is based on whether the user is in portrait or landscape viewing mode.

Needless to say, there is almost certainly room for more refinement in the future. But in recognizing that the web browsing experience provided for by the browser shouldn’t necessarily be the same as the desktop or mobile experiences, Mozilla would appear to be moving in the right direction.  

This is because browser-based UI modifications for tablets may prove to have more impact than publishers and companies trying to reinvent the wheel on the tablet.