Mozilla again rejects porting Firefox to iOS

Mozilla won’t be building Firefox for iOS unless Apple changes its rules, a company executive said over the weekend.

Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s vice president of product at Mozilla, told an audience at South by Southwest Interactive (SxSW) that the company is not building an iOS browser, and has no plans to.

CNET reported Sullivan’s no-iOS-here on Saturday, after a CNET reporter moderated a panel at SXSW that also included representatives from Opera Software and MoboTap, a San Francisco developer of Dolphin, a WebKit-powered browser for Android and iOS.

Sullivan’s comment was the strongest signal yet that Mozilla has no interest in drafting an iOS Firefox. But it wasn’t the first.

Last September, Mozilla pulled the plug on Firefox Home, a spin-off of the desktop browser’s bookmark and tab synchronization technology that was the firm’s only iOS app.

“We have decided to remove Firefox Home from the Apple App Store and focus our resources on other projects,” said Mike Conner, director of services engineering, at the time.

Mozilla’s animus toward iOS goes back even further, to 2011, when it reiterated it would not build Firefox for Apple’s operating system, and to 2009, when then-CEO John Lilly said it would be very unlikely to offer Firefox on iOS.

While Mozilla once left the door open to porting Firefox to iOS, it never made the move. Instead, the open-source developer committed resources to Firefox OS, a browser-based mobile operating system. Handsets powered by Firefox OS are to launch later this year from Alcatel One Touch, Huawei Technologies, LG Electronics and ZTE.

The sticking point for Mozilla is that Apple demands alternate browsers use Safari’s engines to render pages and parse JavaScript. “Apps that browse the Web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit JavaScript,” Apple’s App Store guidelines state.

Other browser makers have bent to Apple’s rules: Google has released an iOS version of Chrome, and Opera, which recently announced it would switch to a WebKit, will have the option of doing the same.

For many of the same reasons, Mozilla has declined to develop a browser for Windows RT and its “Modern”—still called “Metro” by most—tile-based user interface (UI). Microsoft requires that other browsers utilize Windows RT APIs (application programming interfaces) that would result in a Firefox “so crippled in terms of power and speed that it’s probably not worth it to even bother,” Mozilla’s director of Firefox said last May.

Mozilla and other browser makers are at a significant disadvantage in mobile minus an iOS application. According to Web metrics company Net Applications, nearly one in every eight people who browsed the Web last month did so from a mobile device — smartphone or tablet—and iOS accounted for 54.9 percent of the global mobile operating system usage.

Safari is the overwhelming leader in mobile because it’s the default browser on iOS: 55.4 percent of the mobile browsers used in February were a version of Safari.

Last month, Chrome held a 2 percent share, primarily on Android, while Firefox accounted for just 0.02 percent, also on Android.

Mozilla was not immediately available to confirm Sullivan’s comments.

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