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Mozilla brews browserless iPhone apps

Firefox 'experience' without the Firefox

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Mozilla is tinkering with multiple applications for the Apple iPhone. And no, that doesn't include a Firefox browser.

"There is something of the Firefox and Mozilla experience that might be possible on the iPhone - that isn't the Firefox browser. We've got some people prototyping some ideas that may end up becoming iPhone applications," Mozilla director of community development Asa Dotzler tells The Reg. "But there's no plans or intention or discussion around building a browser there."

Last week, Opera hinted it will soon offer a browser for the iPhone, but Dotzler says Mozilla has no intention of taking Firefox where it's "not wanted."

Apple's end user licensing agreement for the iPhone SDK forbids applications from downloading and running interpreted code. And though Opera boss Jon von Tetzchner says this may or may not forbid the use of web browsers, Dotzler sees no ambiguity.

And he's right.

"Apple has made it very clear in their public statement and their license agreement that it is not permitted to build - not just to host at the App Store, but to build - any program that can interpret code," Dotzler says. "If you agree to their SDK, you cannot build another browser."

Well, Opera has built an iPhone app, and judging from von Tetzchner's veiled comments, it has even spoken to Apple about getting it into the iPhone App Store. But Dotzler and Mozilla see no reason to even try. "In the end - whether the SDK is ambiguous or not - Apple's intention is to not allow other browsers. So we say 'You know what, they don't want to be open. So why spend a lot of time and energy fighting that when there are other more open platforms?'"

Mozilla is already offering browsers for Windows Mobile and Nokia Maemo phones, and now that Android is accepting native apps, the open sourcers have built the first prototypes of a Googlephone browser as well.

But despite its stance on Apple's iPhone SDK, Mozilla is building something for the iPhone. In mid-October, Mozilla's John Lilly told GigaOm the outfit would release a single app for the iPhone "in the next few weeks." And Dotzler indicates that multiple ideas are in the works - though he declined to describe them.

"There are a couple of people who are doing work in their spare time," Dotzler said. "I think it's interesting and I hope they push it out to the public soon." He too indicated this could happen "in the next few weeks."

GigaOM speculated that Mozilla's mystery iPhone app would involve Weave, the Labs project that lets you upload your Firefox meta-data - including bookmarks, stored passwords, history, tabs, preferences, and add-ons - to Mozilla's servers for use across multiple browsers.

It's unclear why that would be useful without Firefox - or why Mozilla thinks Apple would welcome such a thing. But there you have it. Whether Weave is involved or not, there's something on the way. And it won't run interpreted code. ®

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