By Dan Moren
November 12, 2015 11:41 AM PT
Firefox arrives on iOS, but may be too little too late
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Not long ago I was helping one of my less tech-savvy friends with his Windows PC, and he opened up Firefox.
“You’re still using that?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s what you told me to use.”
“Uh. In what year?”
Well, Firefox is not only not dead, but it’s finally made its way to iOS. I downloaded it and ran it through its paces, and while I don’t think it’s going to replace Safari as my go-to browser, it’s a perfectly fine alternative.
Of course, what used to set Firefox apart–the Gecko engine–is not present in the iOS version. Because of Apple’s restrictions, WebKit-based browsers are the only option on iOS, and so the Firefox you get here isn’t quite the one you’ll see on the desktop, which continues to use the Gecko engine. It also means that pages in Firefox on iOS will render much the same as they will in Safari, or Chrome, or pretty much any other iOS browser.
So why choose Firefox on iOS? Well, there are a few potential reasons. If you’re a Firefox user on the desktop, the built-in syncing will let you sync open tabs, bookmarks, and passwords between iOS and your computer. There are also additional search engine options, including Twitter, Wikipedia, and Amazon. Beyond that, you’ve got your usual browser features, including a clutter-free reader view, a reading list, and a private browsing mode.
One gripe I encountered: amongst the bookmarks and the open tab sections in iOS are two that Firefox preloads: the Mozilla Project’s homepage and Firefox Help and Support. You can’t remove them. I get that there’s an element of branding and so on that goes into this, but really? Non-removable bookmarks to your site? That’s very early 2000s. Even the Help link, which I admit is useful, is available via the Settings menu too.
Overall, Firefox is, like I said, fine. It’s not going to blow your socks off because there’s nothing really new here. Perhaps the browser’s best selling point these days is its stated disinterest in your personal information; unlike its main rivals, Microsoft, Google, and Apple, Mozilla has no larger ecosystem to feed. If that appeals to you, Firefox may be a good choice, but it’ll come at the cost of the high-level integration that Safari offers.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]
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