I have a love/hate relationship with iOS. My iPad Air is a satisfying tablet; I enjoy using it, but I feel guilty. Why? I have some specific computing beliefs that Apple's operating system is at odds with. Namely, I do not like that users cannot change the default web browser. Even worse, I find it horrible that alternative browser engines cannot be used. While I am sure Apple has its reasons, it is an undeniably bad practice which harms users by limiting choice.
Firefox is not found on iOS for this reason. Mozilla initially refused to cave to Apple and release a neutered version without its own Gecko engine. Last year, however, Mozilla announced that it was bringing a version of the browser to the mobile operating system by saying, "we need to be where our users are so we're going to get Firefox on iOS". While I am still dismayed that browser will not use the Gecko engine on iOS, I've come to accept it as a necessity for Firefox to survive. Today, Mozilla announces that the project is still on track and a beta is on the way soon.
"We want to bring Firefox to every language, platform and device possible. Although we can’t bring the full Firefox experience and rendering engine to iOS due to the restrictions, we saw an opportunity with the latest improvements and tools in iOS 8 to begin development of a Firefox experience for iOS", says Mozilla.
The company further explains, "the Firefox team has been working hard on development of this new browser over the past few months. We are sharing source code in Github for the brave early testers and are also preparing for a limited Firefox for iOS Beta soon. Of course, we would prefer to have a large, open beta, but we must work through the required development and release process to get a Firefox app tested on iOS to get it ready to share with the world".
How Mozilla will choose beta testers remains to be seen. Unlike Android, iOS does not allow beta apps to be posted to the store. Getting beta versions of apps to end users on Apple's OS is a much more convoluted affair. I expect it to be mostly in house, with limited public interaction -- if any at all. Still, it is good news that a beta will be available to testers, whoever they may be, soon.
Open source fans will be happy to know that the source code is already available in GitHub, so maybe we will see some forked versions reach the App Store in the future too. Hell, maybe we will even see the Gecko engine running on jailbroken devices one day! If you want to check out the source code, you can do so here.
You may be asking yourself, however, without Gecko, what is the point of Firefox on iOS? That is a very good question. Ultimately, the benefit is for Firefox desktop users that want to use Firefox Sync on iOS. This is a feature that lets the user sync things such as login credentials and bookmarks between devices (check out the video above). Hopefully Mozilla delivers additional features that make the browser stand out among the competition too.
iPhone and iPad users, are you excited about Firefox coming to your devices? Tell me in the comments.