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Mozilla: no Firefox for iOS

Mozilla has withdrawn entirely from iOS and has no immediate plans to return, according to internet reports.

Speaking at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, Mozilla's vice president of products Jay Sullivan said that Apple's "unfriendly attitude towards third-party browsers" was to blame, according to a report by CNET News.

Although iOS does allow competing web browsers into the Apple App Store, said products must use WebKit. Additionally, they don't get access to the Nitro JavaScript engine (having to use the slower UIWebView instead) and cannot be set as a custom default. Because of these limitations, Sullivan said Mozilla cannot bring the product it wants to Apple’s platform.

Last summer, Mozilla retired Firefox Home, an app that synchronised Firefox shortcuts and data with iOS, but it also prototyped Firefox Junior, which Mozilla developers described as re-thinking the browser user experience from the ground up. This product now looks very unlikely to get a public release.

The decision is in marked contrast to Opera’s recent announcement regarding a switch to WebKit, which will enable its product to work across more platforms, including iOS. However, with Mozilla attempting to move beyond the browser and to its own mobile operating system, it’s possible Sullivan’s arguments that “Apple’s closed environment means users suffer” isn’t entirely clear cut.

While Firefox OS will be open (in the sense that it will have no app gatekeeper like iOS), Apple would no more be able to submit a WebKit version of Safari to the Gecko-based OS than Mozilla can submit its own browser engine for inclusion on the App Store.

Therefore, for Mozilla, its strategy of ignoring the platform that still commands the majority of mobile traffic is a risky one. In sticking to its principles, it must pin its mobile hopes on Firefox OS, which enters a market dominated by iOS and Android, and where even the mighty Microsoft has struggled to gain market share.

Speaking to .net, product designer Faruk Ate said the entire scenario is a “good reminder of how relatively unimportant ‘open versus closed’ is compared to ‘succeed in business versus don’t succeed’”.