Mozilla: Firefox Not Coming To iOS Until Apple Stops Crippling Third-Party Browsers

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Browsers on iOS run with a major disadvantage to Mobile Safari. Not only are they obliged to use Apple’s built-in WebKit rendering engine, but they have to use a slower version of Apple’s speedy Nitro JavaScript engine. The result? If you use any third-party browser on your iPhone or iPad, it will run slower than Safari… at least without a jailbreak.

It’s unfair, but various companies have still made excellent browsers for iOS, including Google Chrome and Opera. Mozilla, though, will not follow these company’s lead, having said at this weekend’s SXSW conference in Austin that Firefox won’t be coming to iOS any time soon.

The announcement was made by Mozilla vice president Jay Sillivan, speaking at the mobile browser wars panel at SXSW Interactive. He Cnet:

The sticking point for Mozilla is not being able to carry over its sophisticated rendering and javascript engines to iOS. Essentially, the organization doesn’t feel like it can build the browser it wants to for Apple’s platform, Sullivan told CNET.

Mozilla has a history of being more resistant to compromise and playing in walled gardens than competitors like Google and Opera. For example, Mozilla only in the last couple of months started supporting H.264 and MP3 codecs, arguing instead that the web should embrace the “free” VP8 codec (which, as it turned out, Steve Jobs was right about… it’s just as beholden to other companies’ patents as H.264).

That’s not to say that Mozilla doesn’t have a point, though. Non-Apple browsers are at a very unfair disadvantage on iOS. Not only can they not be set as default browsers, but they are experientially inferior due to the artificial restraint of not being given access to Apple’s just-in-time Nitro Javascript engine. The stated reason for this is that since Nitro is quicker but theoretically less secure than iOS’s slower JavaScript engine, Apple is only utilizing it in apps with security it can vouch for.

None the less, the iOS platform is not a level playing field in the mobile browser wars, and until that changes, Mozilla’s sitting out the battle.

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  • extra808

    “free” VP8 codec (which, as it turned out, Steve Jobs was right about… it’s just as beholden to other companies’ patents as H.264).

    More like Google paid off the patent trolls to make them go away without any admission that VP8 requires patented methods to work.

  • James Barnette

    IF the iOS version is near as bad as the desktop version then, thank god for this. FF sux

  • VirtualVisitor

    Firefox is a loser.

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John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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