Late last year, Mozilla Firefox was finally released for iOS devices.
This was the first time that Mozilla had produced a fully-functioning web browser for Apple’s mobile devices. A previous effort called Firefox Home, a springboard into Safari for those using Firefox Sync, was retired in 2012.
So why has it taken so long? Well, although Apple has progressively expanded what third-party apps can do on iOS, it’s still a very locked-down platform, especially for web browsers. Amongst other things, web browsers on iOS must:
- only use WebKit, the rendering engine behind Safari that is built-in to iOS
- can’t become the ‘default’ web browser
Whilst Safari, Opera and Google Chrome all use some variation of WebKit on desktop computers, Firefox has its own rendering engine, called Gecko. App Store rules mean that Gecko can’t be used by iOS apps, and so Mozilla has had to reluctantly use WebKit in its iOS app.
And although you can now use Firefox instead of Safari on your iOS device, if you open links in most apps, such as your email or Twitter, these links will open in Safari. Some third-party iOS apps will offer to open links in third-party web browsers, but this is up to individual app developers and is usually an advanced feature. Chrome seems to be one of the few web browsers with any support from third party apps. So even if you want to make Firefox your main web browser on your device, you will still regularly end up in Safari.
So what advantages are there to using Firefox on iOS, rather than Safari? The main feature of interest is integration with Firefox Sync. If you use Firefox on one or more desktops, then you can also have your bookmarks, saved passwords and browser history show up on your mobile devices as well. And, well, that’s about it – although it sports features like private browsing, blocking popups and multiple tabs, these are all offered by Safari as well.
Plus, there are several things that Safari does better. With iOS 9, apps can open a Safari ‘window’ within them, which includes your cookies and saved passwords. You can use content blockers to block ads, which Firefox can’t – ironically, Focus by Firefox, which I reviewed last week, doesn’t work with Firefox. And as it’s the default browser, you’ll have to use it from time to time anyway.
I used to use the Google Chrome iOS app for a while, but ditched it when I fell out with Google nearly three years ago. I haven’t really used it since – having just one web browser on my iPhone and iPad is actually easier.
As a die-hard Firefox user since 2002, back when it was still called Phoenix, I really wanted to like Firefox on iOS. Unfortunately it’s a disappointing experience at present that isn’t as good as Safari. In which case, why bother?
Mozilla Firefox is free from the App Store, and is a universal app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.