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.

firefox logo

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.

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10 replies on “Mozilla is bringing Firefox web browser to iOS… kind of”

  1. The lack of true alternative browsers is a big turn off for me on ios in general, but the ipad in particular.

  2. I wonder how they’ll handle low memory situations. I have an iPad with 1 GB of RAM and it’s constantly running into low memory. The current browsers kill off background tabs which causes them to be force reloaded when you switch back to them losing all previous data (especially form input data). I have no idea why Apple thinks 64-bit OS and apps and only 1 GB of RAM is a good idea.

    1. The common low memory issues, especially with browsers, may not be fixed in Firefox. It doesn’t seem Apple’s policy has changed much and it’s just Mozilla backtracking on their original reason to not make an iOS browser.

      1. Could be taking into account the new iPad Air 2… Since they doubled the RAM to 2GB, though 2GB is still pretty low for 64bit and won’t help much with multi-tasking… but means it should be easier to run certain memory intensive apps that otherwise might have been too buggy and prone to out of memory issues…

        Though, it may mean they don’t intend it for all iOS devices… if that’s the case… as the memory increase has yet to trickle down to Apple’s other devices…

    2. Reasoning is pretty straight forward as the 64bit OS is a requirement to fully take advantage of 64bit hardware, and they’re also setting up the platform for future proofing as early transition means getting the developers, etc to quickly make the transition as well and ensure going forward the platform is well optimized and legacy can be eliminated for max efficiency… and ensure any apps made now will continue to work on future devices as they slowly scale up…

      Not that I agree with all their reasoning but It’s just that multiple considerations of mobile design limits pretty much all mobile devices to less than 4GB of RAM, there are only a small number of devices in the entire mobile market that offer 3-4GB of RAM, but you are right that 1GB is clearly insufficient for a 64bit device and Apple should have at least increased their RAM to 2GB…

      Though, that’s what they did for the newer iPad Air 2 and it’s just a shame it took them so long and it may take just as long before we see another increase in RAM but the industry should be transitioning to LP-DDR4 RAM over the next two years and that should make offering higher capacities much easier and pressure will mount as both Android and Windows devices will start pushing higher capacities first and Apple will have to follow if they’re going to scale up to higher performance ranges and increased multi-tasking…

    3. Seriously, if they’re going 64-bit, they should increase the RAM on all their 64-bit devices. What is Apple thinking.

    1. It is truly the second coming of IE 4. Originally it was faster and better but it has so much proprietary crap that encourages ignorant and lazy developers to use, especially on mobile.

      Both IE and Firefox are now more standards compliant.

  3. The browsing and keyboard experience were not very good to me on iOS. With 3rd party keyboards (although they’re pretty buggy right now) and a, hopefully, better Firefox experience, I may clean off the dust my iPad Air has been collecting.

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