Sorry, Firefox fans. The chances of Mozilla’s Firefox browser being ported over to iOS are just about zero, as in not now, probably not ever. That’s the word from Mozilla, which this week pulled Firefox Home from Apple’s iTunes Store, saying it will focus its resources on other projects.
While Mozilla, the open-source group that developed Firefox browser and the Thunderbird email client, didn’t explicitly say it will never write for iOS, it’s clear from the context that Mozilla can’t work with the tight restrictions Apple has placed on browser developers.
Instead, it will continue to construct its own operating system known as Firefox OS, built on Mozilla’s Web technologies, in much the same way Google built the Chrome OS on its Web technologies. Firefox OS, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said in a blog post, will be optimized for entry-level smartphones and will first launch in Brazil early next year.
“As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use,” he said.
The decision to kill Firefox Home wasn’t surprising; it was never a full-fledged browser. Instead, it was a Safari add-on that allowed users to synch bookmarks, open tabs, and browsing history between a laptop running Firefox and an iPhone. I never could get it to run decently on my iPhone, and I ditched it pretty quickly. It’s one of the few, maybe the only, Mozilla product I really didn’t like.
There is a version of Firefox for Android, although it doesn’t necessarily run on all flavors of the operating system and the many Android smartphones on the market. (Here’s Mozilla guide to Firefox on Android.)
If you’re curious, here’s the scoop on Apple and browser developers: Apple won’t let real browsers compete with Safari in the iTunes Store. Instead, developers must build wrappers around its Safari browser.
While developers of some decent alternative browsers, Opera Mini comes to mind, manage to live with that restriction, Mozilla decided it could not and pulled the plug. I’m not blaming Apple. 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.
In the long run, the choice of mobile browsers is becoming much less significant as apps, not Web pages viewed via browsers, become more and more central to mobile computing. Still, I’m sorry that I’ll never be able to load Firefox on my iPhone.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.