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Mozilla dumps iOS, pulls Firefox Home from iTunes Store

Open source browser still shut out by Apple policies

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Two years after launching Firefox Home in the iTunes App Store, the Mozilla Foundation has decided to cease development of the app, in a move that appears to further distance Mozilla from Apple and the iOS platform, which have never welcomed it.

Mozilla, which offers the open source Firefox web browser, has struggled to make itself visible in Apple's channel, owing to the fruity firm's strict rules on what kinds of apps can be sold in its iTunes Store.

Full-featured web browsers such as Firefox, in particular, are strictly verboten. Instead, developers who want to offer alternative browsing experiences on iOS must build "wrapper" UIs that skin Apple's own Safari browser – something Mozilla developers have resisted.

As a result, Firefox Home for iOS was not a web browser, but a tool that could sync bookmarks, open tabs, and browsing history from desktop and mobile versions of Firefox. It also gave Safari users access to a version of Firefox's "Awesome Bar" tool, which makes it easier to return to previously visited pages by typing portions of their URLs or page titles.

"We released Firefox Home as an experiment in bringing a part of the Firefox experience to iOS, focusing on Firefox Sync," explained a post to the Mozilla Services blog on Friday. "This project provided valuable insight and experience with the platform, but we have decided to remove Firefox Home from the Apple App Store and focus our resources on other projects."

True to Mozilla's word, Firefox Home was no longer available in the App Store as of Tuesday.

Not every browser maker has been as reluctant as Mozilla to follow Apple's rules. Most notably, Google has shipped a version of Chrome for iOS, and Opera has made a version of its lightweight Opera Mini browser available. Both products use the WebKit rendering engine from Safari to display pages, as per Apple's policy.

While that might be fine for Google, however – the desktop version of Chrome uses a version of WebKit, anyway – Firefox has very different internals. Mozilla has argued that unless it can take advantage of all of its own technology, as it does with Firefox for Android, its browser won't truly be competitive on iOS, as it won't reflect the Firefox experience on other platforms.

There are signs that Mozilla might be relaxing its position. In July, Mozilla teased a new browser for iOS called Firefox Junior, which did use the Safari WebKit rendering engine but offered a radically different UI. For now, however, that project remains an experiment, and Mozilla has given no hint as to when it might be released to the iTunes Store.

Meanwhile, the Mozilla Foundation is pressing ahead with a number of other efforts aimed at the mobile market. Most notably, in July it announced Firefox OS, an effort to build a low-cost open source mobile OS based on web standards.

At the time, Mozilla said Firefox OS was for the "billions of users" who are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years. For now, however, it seems the estimated 85 million iPhones and 34 million iPads sold in the US alone – to say nothing of the worldwide market – will still have to go without Firefox technology. ®

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