Fruity Firefox: Mozilla caves to Apple, unveils iOS-friendly browser

New Zealand will get first crack at browser's fruity capabilities

Two years after dramatically challenging Apple to open up iOS for its browser, Mozilla has slipped out a fruity-friendly Firefox.

It was briefly serving ex-Moz chief Gary Kovacs who in April 2013 said there’d be no Firefox for iPhones and iPads unless Apple relented on its WebKit-first policy.

“iOS has a policy, generally speaking, where you have to use their web engine,” Kovacs said. “Our Web engine is different... I would love to see far more energy behind iOS. We refuse to make the policy switch.”

Only now, with Kovacs a memory and changes at Apple, has Mozilla released a first public preview of its browser for iOS.

Mozilla is treading carefully, going to just a few countries to collect feedback – starting with New Zealand – before full public launch. Final Firefox for iOS will be available from the App Store later this year, Mozilla wrote.

The careful approach is critical, because Mozilla has been forced to do precisely what Kovacs had ruled out – rework its browser’s plumbing for the sake of iOS.

iOS uses WebKit, the open-source rendering engine also employed in the version of Apple’s Safari that is the default browser on iOS devices. Gecko is the rendering engine of choice for Firefox.

As mighty Adobe and the extinct Sun Microsystems learned long, long ago, Apple takes no prisoners when it comes to rejecting non-native code for iOS. But in May, Mozilla reckoned “latest improvements and tools” in iOS 8 meant it could begin development for a Firefox “experience” on iOS.

Until May, Apple had let only Safari access major device and iOS features like the iOS Nitro JavaScript engine. iOS 8 saw Apple open up Nitro to third parties and Mozilla is now moving carefully.

Google announced Chrome for iOS in June 2012, built using WebKit. However, it scores just two stars in review on Apple’s store.

Mountain View’s browser has been criticised for hogging the battery and being flatfooted on performance, problems Google promised to fix back in June.

Announcing the softly-softly strategy in May, Mozilla said: “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.” ®

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