The Firefox web browser for Android has offered a way to “install” web apps from Firefox Marketplace for a while. But up until now that just meant you’d see a shortcut on your home screen and when you tapped it, the app would open up in a browser window (without the normal browser user interface).
Starting with Firefox 29 beta, installing a Firefox Marketplace lets you install web apps as if they were native Android apps.
As of March 20th, you’ll need to install the beta version of Firefox for Android to use the new feature. Eventually it’ll be available in the stable version of the web browser as well.
Just fire up the browser on your Android device, tap the menu button, choose Tools, and then Apps to get to the Firefox Marketplace. When you tap the install button next to any app, the browser will download any necessary data and then open up the Android installation menu.
When you’re done the app will not only show up on your home screen, but also in your Android app drawer and it’ll display properly in your Recent Apps menu. Firefox maker Mozilla calls the new feature APK Factory.
Note that if you uninstall the Firefox web browser the apps will remain installed… but they won’t work. Tapping on their icons will bring up a Play Store listing for the Firefox web browser.
Since this is a feature of Firefox, web app developers don’t need to do anything extra to convert their apps into native Android apps. Just submit the apps to the Firefox Marketplace and Mozilla’s software will do the rest. Apps that are entirely hosted on the web will be updated automatically — the next time a user opens the app, they’ll get the latest features. If there are changes that need to be downloaded, Firefox will prompt users to download an updated installer.
In other words, there’s one less reason to buy a Firefox OS phone… since just about any app that will run on the platform is also now available as a native Android app.