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No Firefox For iOS, Says Mozilla's Product Head 318

Posted by timothy
from the once-bitten dept.
hypnosec writes "Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's VP of Product, has revealed that the non-for-profit organization is not going to build an iOS version of its Firefox web browser as long as Apple doesn't mend its unfriendly ways towards third party browsers. Speaking at SXSW in a mobile browser wars panel Sullivan said that Mozilla is neither building nor planning to build a Firefox version for Apple's iOS. Mozilla pulled Firefox Home from the App Store back in September 2012 following Apple's not so accommodating attitude."
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No Firefox For iOS, Says Mozilla's Product Head

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @10:43AM (#43131111)

    Somehow it doesn't seem to be a problem for Chrome, even if Google is competing directly against Apple with Android. Their browser still runs on iOS and pretty much all other platforms. They also have iOS apps for pretty much every other service they have (gmail, maps, search, etc)

    Sorry Mozilla but sometimes you just have to suck it up. Especially if you want to get on locked mobile devices.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:5, Informative)

    by obarthelemy (160321) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @10:57AM (#43131201)

    It is. But since Apple don't have an overwhelming share of the mobile space, that's allowed: customers got other options.

    MS got sued because on the desktop, there is no other option, and that OS monopoly gave MS leverage in other areas (browsers, apps...). Apple don't have that kind of power.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:02AM (#43131251)

    Since there is no method to distribute the source from the same location as the finished product, it violates the F/OSS nature of the product.

    You don't need the source and binary at the same place to be F/OSS.

  • by Predius (560344) <> on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:15AM (#43131319)

    Well, save for the fact that 'Chrome' on iOS is just a skin over Apple's WebKit with the slower JS engine Apple 'graciously' lets apps us vs the faster one their browser can access on the same device.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:23AM (#43131379)

    Well that is inaccurate.

    The reason there is no Firefox port on iOS is that Apple will not allow Firefox on iOS to actually be a port of gecko. Apple requires browsers on iOS to use their webkit backend, all browsers on iOS use the same rendering/javascript/etc engine.

    The VLC snafu is due to the fact that Apple adds DRM and further more restrictive licensing terms on all appstore apps that are not compatible with GPL -this is a situation that could be fixed by allowing app authors to upload their own licenses, but so far that is not possible.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:29AM (#43131425)

    I was of the understanding that the reason Firefox hasn't been ported to iOS because it is open source. Same reason that VLC got yoinked from the App Store. Since there is no method to distribute the source from the same location as the finished product, it violates the F/OSS nature of the product.

    Not correct. It does not have to be the same location. As far as I understood it, the very unfortunate VLC situation came about when a purist developer of VLC demanded that Apple would release VLC without DRM on IOS. But all apps on IOS use DRM, it is quite naive to assume that they would make an exception. And let's face it: IOS is a USER operating system, whether a free VLC has drm or not is even invisible.

  • Re:Umm.. (Score:1, Informative)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:38AM (#43131477)

    Try to buy a non-MS machine at any retail store other than Apple..... Yup... That's called MONOPOPLY . Microsoft's position is more absolute than when the Feds broke up Standard Oil or Ma Bell.

    When I go to Newegg and punch up Desktop Operating Systems the ONLY results are MICROSOFT.

  • Re:OK then... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:52AM (#43131569)

    They've neither forbidden it nor made it extra difficult, though it may not be easy.
    Have a look at the comments over at

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @12:17PM (#43131741)

    No, any company is free to fork Android. Take a look at Amazon. They seem to be perfectly content right now.

    Oh wait, you're talking being in the inner circle where they're privy to what's being developed before it's released and dropped to the AOSP. Explain why anyone should help the competition? Putting the code to AOSP is currently miles ahead of most other companies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @12:19PM (#43131749)

    So as a customer, you enjoy paying the 30% in-app tax for *EVERYTHING* (main reason why Amazon nor Google apps have any purchase links anywhere). Enjoy paying for accessories like routers that are twice as expensive as similar or better featured items.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:3, Informative)

    by node 3 (115640) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @01:10PM (#43132117)

    There's tons of GPL software on the App Store. The only reason VLC was pulled was that one of the developers complained. An Apple hater didn't want his software on the App Store.

  • by neiras (723124) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @01:41PM (#43132309)

    I can feed trolls with the best of 'em. Burn, karma, burn!

    The fact that the rendering engine would be Gecko on their PC and WebKit on their iPhone just doesn't fucking matter.

    Apple limits third party IOS developers to UIWebview, while Safari gets to use the Nitro JIT javascript engine. It's an automatic performance disadvantage for any aftermarket browser. That fucking matters.

    It really shows that Mozilla's focus is on themselves and software developers, not on the consumer end user, who has been running Firefox on their PC for years now and Safari on their iPhone for years now and just wants a Firefox interface and bookmark syncing on their iPhone.

    No, it shows that Mozilla is smart enough to recognize and avoid pitched battles with Apple. Why fight to have a weird mutant version of their flagship project on a closed device, damaging their brand with artificially limited performance and a rendering engine that doesn't act like Firefox?

    If that is Mozilla's focus, then they don't belong on iOS and good riddance.

    Mozilla's focus is on opening up the web []. You're right - they don't "belong" on closed, controlled iOS. They will, however, try to encourage Apple to let them in.

    On iOS, the end user is at the top of the hierarchy, and software developers and content producers all work for the user. The user already has an HTML5 renderer in their iPhone, they already have a TCP/IP stack. You do not need to replace them to build a browser, and in fact, it is much better security that you can't replace them. That is what is best for the consumer: a secure renderer that is highly-optimized specifically for their device.

    Who decides what's in your interest? If it's Apple, then Apple is at the top of the hierarchy, not users as you say.

    As a user myself, I value the ability to use Firefox over Chrome on my Android device. With Android, I can decide what's in my interests. The defaults work for "most consumers", and for everyone else there is a measure of freedom.

    There are plenty of reasons that software monocultures are bad, and Google is your friend there.

    There are hundreds of 3rd party browsers on iOS, many with very innovative features. Like Skyfire, which converts Flash Video to ISO standard video on a server and essentially enables you to run Flash on iPhone or iPad. There are browsers that are exploring lots of gestures, or deep social integration.

    Cute little user-interface experiments are one thing, but that's all niche-market small time stuff. Deep social integration and gestures? Tee hee. Calling a UIWebview wrapper a browser is kind of endearing.

    Mozilla is missing out on all of that because they are pouty, entitled developers who want their feet rubbed and cheeks kissed before they deign to bless us with their bloated, mangled code.

    You realize that Firefox is the best browser on the memory usage front, and near tops in performance right? If your gut feeling about Mozilla is based on a 2006-era opinion, you might want to look at what they've done lately.

    And of course, Mozilla knows better than Apple what Apple users want. As if.

    Most users want options and the ability to use their devices as they see fit. Mozilla has only ever supported users' rights. Apple can't say that.

    And finally, Mozilla's hypocrisy: note that the one and only HTML renderer on Firefox OS is Gecko. And Firefox OS has zero 3rd party browsers as of right now.

    Hey now, third party browsers can just wrap Gecko (actually, it's more like just opening an IFRAME, since the UI is all HTML.) In your world, using the system renderer is a good thing, right? What are you complaining about? /s

    In all seriousness though, it could be done with some work. I

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:4, Informative)

    by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @01:49PM (#43132345)

    I was of the understanding that the reason Firefox hasn't been ported to iOS because it is open source. Same reason that VLC got yoinked from the App Store. Since there is no method to distribute the source from the same location as the finished product, it violates the F/OSS nature of the product.

    That's quite clueless. All MacOS X and iOS apps are stored in "bundles", which are basically directories with a flag that tells the OS to show them to the user as one unit. You can put _anything_ into a bundle. Including the complete source code. So it is quite easy to distribute the source code to _everybody_ downloading the app, without giving them even the choice to get it.

    VLC was pulled because one of the developers of one of the libraries that it uses threatened to sue Apple, so Apple pulled it. Whether distribution on the App Store is a GPL violation is an open question, but clearly Apple is right to respect the wishes of the copyright holder (whether they are required to do so legally or not).

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:5, Informative)

    by beelsebob (529313) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @01:54PM (#43132383)

    No, it requires all browsers to be a thin wrapper around safari's engine which is WebKit. So it very much is WebKit that's required – specifically the WebKit shipped on the device.

  • Re:OK then... (Score:4, Informative)

    by roca (43122) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:46PM (#43132989) Homepage

    The comments here are explain this pretty well: []

    FirefoxOS is roughly an Android kernel, Gecko-based userspace, and the Gaia HTML+JS homescreen apps. Anyone is free to replace the Gecko-based userspace with something else, e.g. a Webkit-based userspace. We (Mozilla) are assisting with this by standardizing the phone-specific HTML+JS APIs so they can be reimplemented by others, by trying to ensure Gaia doesn't have unnecessary dependencies on non-standard stuff, and of course by making everything under our control open source. Your OS should be able to run FirefoxOS apps and we have open-sourced our app store so you might even be able to run our app store (I'm not sure). Apple obviously provides nothing comparable for iOS!

    However, if you replace Gecko then the result isn't really FirefoxOS any more and you wouldn't be allowed to use the Firefox trademark (nor would it be appropriate for you to do so).

    If you're asking for the ability to install an alternative native-code Web engine alongside Gecko on FFOS, the answer is no; giving Gecko sole control of FFOS userspace simplifies a lot of problems and increases performance and security. See [] for more.

  • Re: Dear EU (Score:5, Informative)

    by OldSpiceAP (888386) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:56PM (#43133067)
    You can craft the interface however you want however by matter of policy, apple restricts 3rd party browsers to using UIWebView component to render HTML which is the internal WebKit rendering engine. Gecko is not allowed on iOS. This means the JavaScript engine as well. In fact the newer JavaScript engine used by safari is also not accessible. UIWebView only exposes a slower older js engine. This means outside of the interface itself, all browsers by default will have inferior performance to Safari. It is simply a restriction imposed by Apple. One can argue about whether this is good policy or if they have good reasons or not, this is completely fair. But it is a matter of simple fact that you cannot use any other rendering engine.
  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:30PM (#43133233) Homepage Journal

    You mean "writable executable pages," not directory memory access. The reason Safari is faster than UIWebView is because it can use a JIT to compile JavaScript into native code. Doing this requires the ability to create a writable page of memory that can be written.

    Apps in the app store aren't allowed to do this. iOS loads the app into memory, marks all the text section pages as read only, marks all the data section pages as no-execute, and only then passes control to the program. This means that an App store program can't run the JIT because it can't create a writable page that is executable.

    However, even given that, I find it impossible that there's no way Apple could give UIWebView access to the JIT. It would just take some amount of effort to architect it and write it, and the end result would probably make their own Safari more secure, but why bother doing that when you can just make every other browser on the platform be unnecessarily slower?

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:4, Informative)

    by oldlurker (2502506) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @05:13PM (#43133511)

    It's not webkit - all browsers on iOS are required to be thin wrappers around Safari. For example, Chrome is Safari with Chrome's tabs and branding.

    Uhm, no, it is webkit that is the requirement. The phrase "thin wrappers around Safari" does not even make sense. Safari is a complete application, not a framework/library; there is no way on iOS to create an app that is a "thin wrapper" around another app.

    This is incorrect. The requirement is that alternative browsers use the *built in* webkit and javascript engine. This is a very important distinction. Chrome on iOS is not allowed to supply and use its own webkit and javascript engine that Chrome is using on all other platforms, on iOS it is using the ones built in to iOS. Apple do not allow anyone to supply a rendering engine and javascript engine to iOS, regardless if it is webkit or not. This is why some call them just gui wrappers to the built on browser, which is basically what they are.

  • Re:Dear EU (Score:2, Informative)

    by Guspaz (556486) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @11:24PM (#43135299)

    Firstly, there are zero restrictions against the rendering engine. Mozilla could use Gecko if they wanted, and Google could use their version of Webkit. The restriction is against the javascript engine, and Gecko/Webkit would not be very useful in a web browser without one. That's why they have to use Apple's library. There is at least two browsers out there that don't use Apple's library. Opera executes the javascript on their remote proxy and their local rendering engine communicates with that to feed the results in. Then there's that other one that actually does the rendering itself server-side and sends the results as images.

    In terms of Chrome, it's no more a gui wrapper than Firefox is a GUI wrapper of the Gecko engine... Yes, the API being used to access it is likely more restrictive, but not enough to stop them from adding a whole bunch of features not available in Safari. The key one for me is unlimited tabs, but the interface in general is better, incognito mode is sometimes useful, you get a little bit of user-agent control (they only expose it as a "request desktop site"), syncing with your google accounts (including automatic authentication to google sites, which implies deeper integration than a GUI wrapper), the benefits of the "omnibox", etc.

    There are obviously a bunch of features that they could implement if they could use their own rendering and javascript engine (and getting a full-speed javascript engine would be nice, only Safari gets that), but if they implemented the current feature set with their own rendering and javascript engine, there probably wouldn't be any differences noticeable to the user.

    I'd love for Apple to remove those restrictions, but Chrome on iOS is not a thin GUI wrapper, and more people should check it out; it's a lot better than Safari.

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