by Bill Snyder

Firefox on the iPhone Ain’t Gonna Happen

Mar 11, 20133 mins
BrowsersConsumer ElectronicsiPhone

Apple says build your mobile browser our way, and Mozilla says no way. A deal to get Firefox on iOS is never going to get done. And who loses? Me and you.

I hate it when tech industry politics gets in the way of giving consumers more choice and better products. And there’s no better example than the beef between Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, and Apple.

Because Apple insists that developers for iOS (the operating system for iPhones and iPads) do everything Apple’s way, consumer choice is limited. And because of that unchanging position, consumers won’t have the choice to run a mobile version of Firefox on iOS devices. I pretty much knew that was the case — in fact, I predicted it last year — but I had a slim hope that a compromise of sorts could be worked out. But it became clear Saturday that no agreement is likely.

Jay Sullivan, a Mozilla vice president, said that the open source development group is not currently building a version of its Firefox browser for iOS, nor does the company plan to. Sullivan made his remarks during a panel discussion at the giant South by Southwest Interactive industry gathering in Austin, Texas and in an interview with CNET.

In essence, Sullivan says that because of the restrictions Apple places on any browser that would be an alternative to Safari, Mozilla would not be able to build a browser it would be proud of.

Mozilla has toyed with an iOS version of Firefox for a while. Last September, Mozilla pulled the plug on Firefox Home, a spin-off of the desktop browser’s bookmark and tab synchronization technology that was the firm’s only iOS app. It wasn’t a real mobile browser and, frankly, it wasn’t very good.

Now Mozilla is turning to its own operating system, Firefox OS, which will initially run on lower-end smartphones in markets outside the U.S., at least until 2014.

While developers of some decent alternative browsers — Opera Mini comes to mind — manage to live with Apple’s restriction, Mozilla decided it could not and pulled the plug. While I’m disappointed, I do understand Apple’s point of view. Keeping very tight control over its platform and applications that run on it has helped create a very solid experience for users of iPhones and iPads.

Google, on the other hand, has opted for a much more open approach. That gives developers a lot more freedom to develop applications, but sometimes results in seriously flawed and insecure apps.

Still, I wish that these organizations had tried harder to give users more choice.