The Firefox web browser is available for Windows, Mac, or Linux computers and you can use it on mobile devices running Android or Firefox OS. But so far there’s been one major platform that you couldn’t use the web browser on: iOS.
Now Mozilla has announced it’s bringing Firefox to iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users… but the browser won’t work exactly the same way on iOS as it does on other platforms.
Most versions of Firefox use the Gecko rendering engine to load content from web pages. Apple’s Safari web browser for iOS, on the other hand, uses the WebKit rendering engine… and while Apple does allow third-party developers to submit their own web browsers to the App Store, the company prohibits apps which use different rendering engines.
In other words, if Mozilla wants to submit a Firefox browser to the App Store, it has to use WebKit rather than Gecko. For years, that’s been the reason Mozilla didn’t offer an iOS version of its browser. A few years ago the company did offer an app called Firefox Home for iOS, but it wasn’t a full-fledged web browser. It was simply a tool that allowed Firefox users to access their bookmarks and other settings when using an iOS device.
The new version of Firefox for iOS will likely be a fully functional web browser… and while it will use the same rendering engine as Safari that doesn’t mean it won’t offer features that aren’t available from the default web browser on iPhones and iPads. The new app will likely support Firefox Sync which means that if you use the desktop version of Firefox, you’ll be able to sync bookmarks, passwords, and other data between your iPhone and your desktop or laptop computer.
Firefox for iOS is still in the early planning stages, but like most Mozilla projects it’s being developed in the open. You can check out the initial code for the new web browser at github, although things are very likely to change dramatically by the time the team is ready to send Firefox to the App Store.