Mozilla pulls Firefox Home from Apple's app store

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 31, 2012

The restrictions on Apple's iOS operating system have prevented the development and distribution of a full Firefox web browser for iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices that run on iOS. All web browsers running on iOS use the mobile Safari backend, which is seriously limiting browser developers who want to port their mobile browsers to the system.

Google recently released a version of its Chrome web browser of iOS devices which featured syncing capabilities between different devices but had to use the Safari mobile backend.

Mozilla was even in a more desperate situation as Firefox was not sharing its core with Safari. And so, Firefox Home was born for iOS devices. Instead of porting a crippled version of Firefox to iOS devices, Mozilla created the Firefox Home app which made available the history, bookmarks and open tabs on the iOS device.

And it is exactly this app that Mozilla is now retiring from Apple's app store. Apple users who are using Firefox Home can use the app until the end of the year before it won't work anymore.

Mozilla has published the code on Github to give third party developers a chance to work on the project. While it is not clear how successful this offer will be, it is a glimmer of hope for Firefox users with iOS devices who like to synchronize their bookmarks and other features of the desktop and Android versions of the browser.

The reason for retiring Firefox Home for iOS officially is to free up resources for other projects. The low number of users who have installed the app, said to be 100000, may have played a role as well.

The makers of Firefox and Thunderbird plan to evaluate their options as far as other options to support Apple's iOS platform are concerned. This leaves a door open to create another app for iOS devices at a later time. I would not get my hopes up too high though unless Apple decides to open up the operating system to give browser developers the chance to port their mobile browsers to the system.


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  1. Matt said on September 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I don’t understand why you’re attempting to make such a strong argument here when you have to ask questions like the following:
    “Further, why do so many extensions maintain compatibility when Chrome gets updated vs. Firefox? Is this perhaps because Google does support development issues better? Or is it because developers are quicker to support Chrome updates? And if they are, why?”
    I don’t even use Chrome, and I’m not a developer, but if you read blogs like Ghacks, you should know that Chrome extensions have never been able to hook into the browser as deeply as Firefox extensions. Chrome extensions are more like the “jetpack” Firefox extensions– restartless, less likely to be broken by updates, but limited in functionality. It’s why adblock extensions don’t work as well on Chrome (though I hear ABP devs have made a lot of headway), and why feature-complete versions of NoScript, Firebug, et al. will likely never be available for Chrome. The addon landscape is entirely different between the two browsers.

    “However, if our discussion is to paint Mozilla in good light, their slowness is not a statement of good character.”
    I’m not interested in painting them in any light. I’m not some browser fanboy. Mozilla is slow to implement on the desktop, and that will surely continue to be the case while they pull devs to focus on their (non-iOS) mobile efforts. Firefox’s version number may be ticking up every 6 weeks, but actual development and bug-fixing has not sped up.

    The rest of your post is a scattershot of half-thoughts and rambling pontification best reserved for your own blog.

    1. Jeffrey Ryan said on September 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

      Firefox now has it’s own add-on SDK,/API, and it’s own plugin container to sandbox plugins. Not so different.

      I was expecting this:

      “How do we focus on innovations in areas where Mozilla can be the first, the best or the only organization that can deliver outstanding products?” Following suit.

  2. Jeffrey Ryan said on September 2, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    After thinking a bit more about this, not only do Apple and Microsoft limit things, but Mozilla does as well. It may be in the name of progress that they do this, but the number of extensions that deprecate with each new release of the browser makes me wonder how much Mozilla supports third party developers.

    It seems they too are left to fend for themselves quite a bit. Many of the developers of these extensions have contribution encouragements as well, so there is, or was, hope for some financial reward. When their extensions break however, they either need to update if they can, or lose out. If this was a commercial venture as a whole, developers would probably be crying out quite a bit more than they do now. Mozilla’s actions curtail developers from being able to develop and maintain great extensions, especially ones the little guys come up with. Mozilla can advance rapidly and does, leaving many other developers behind.

    Open source freedom can mean change, not always in the best interest of anyone but the lead team. It’s not that Mozilla can’t bring a browser to iOS. It’s that they won’t. WebKit is a great framework. Though they may have to work with what Apple gives them, they could still do much with what is on iOS. They just don’t want to. Mozilla also has their agenda in mind. We can’t discredit Apple and leave Mozilla to be championed as not acting the same when they do in other areas.

    I’ll be sticking with my Xmarks…which I gladly pay for.

    1. Matt said on September 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

      The false equivalency you draw is borderline ridiculous. The extension compatibility issue has been solved for a while now. And honestly, if expecting authors (during the interim) to update a SINGLE LINE in their install.rdf to explicitly state compatibility was leaving them to “fend for themselves”, I have to wonder if you expect Mozilla itself to maintain every damn extension they host. If you’re still missing extensions, they were likely abandoned by their authors long before the switch to rapid releases and equal or better replacements are probably available on As an example (and it’s the only one of this sort I’ve experienced), Screengrab eventually broke for me, so I spent a minute or two on AMO and discovered Pearl Crescent Page Saver Basic which turned out to be a much better screen-grabbing tool anyway.

      “Mozilla can advance rapidly and does, leaving many other developers behind.”
      Ha. No, they do not advance rapidly. They’re so slow, their design mockups can be copied and completely implemented in other browsers before ever landing in Firefox (see the still unfinished downloads panel that Safari borrowed long ago). Mozilla’s comparatively small staff is stretched quite thin, and it shows.

      “WebKit is a great framework. Though they may have to work with what Apple gives them, they could still do much with what is on iOS. They just don’t want to.”
      And why would they? Why waste their limited resources and time building and maintaining what would amount to a gimped Firefox “skin” for the default browser in iOS?

      “Mozilla also has their agenda in mind.”
      And it’s a laudable mission indeed:

      1. Jeffrey Ryan said on September 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

        It’s not ridiculous at all. It’s not just one line of code in many cases Some yes. Oversimplification of the issue is what you speak of.

        Further, why do so many extensions maintain compatibility when Chrome gets updated vs. Firefox? Is this perhaps because Google does support development issues better? Or is it because developers are quicker to support Chrome updates? And if they are, why?

        You say Firefox is slow to update. As a whole, they have been in the past. Now they are moving much more quickly. However, if our discussion is to paint Mozilla in good light, their slowness is not a statement of good character. They are changing this, and I applaud it, even as extensions die. However, the development community surrounding Firefox is large, and keeping up to date is difficult for so many developers to support such a diverse user group. And yes, many have abandoned their updates. We can no longer customize Firefox like it used to.

        As far as Mozilla’s mission, I was not slamming that at all. Simply pointing out that they have one. So does Apple. So does Google.

        Perhaps much of the extension mess is what companies like Google and Apple want to avoid. Even Mozilla with some of the developer tools being integrated in upcoming releases are hinting at this. It’ll put some of what we’ve relied upon from the extensions community in a threatening situation, perhaps to be abandoned. With the developer community as a whole doing such a poor job along with Mozilla in working together, maybe it’s best Mozilla take over a bit more, where frankly, the ideal has not been met. Is this the fault of the developers or Mozilla?

        Mozilla certainly is putting it to the developers and users alike, compared to how it used to be. They have to. It’s not that they are without empathy though.

        It may become difficult at some point to tell the difference between Chrome, Safari and Firefox. They’re all working toward a common goal via their working group as it is. To be honest, a skin perhaps really should be the only difference a user should see. The web should be universally accessible, to empower, openly. Competition is good though. I’m not saying to do without that at all, just not at the expense of users and developers alike. I saw Mozilla could have done better than they have.

        We’ve been at odds with Internet Explorer for so long because of it’s differentiation. Information should render the same, with the same excellence and same ease of use, no matter what. Standards. Else, we wind up with IE.

        Overall, this is a bump in a long, long road. Much of what was hyped by any company at the start, will be muted by what is practical, and unfortunately, status quo. And that means, what users who don’t know what’s going on under the hood will buy into due to good marketing, not necessarily, what is truly best.

  3. Noel said on September 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I don’t know how to put it in precise phrasing but here it goes. At the time of Win 7 launch, MS was sued for blocking competition with browser, as everyone still could download browser of their choice. Now Apple is indeed behaving as if they don’t want competition so why the heck everyone is saying Yes SIr?
    Am I missing anything here?

    1. ilev said on September 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Yes, your are missing something. Microsoft is a monopoly in OS (and Office), and as a monopoly they has restrictions like browser ballot in EU, no media player, no anti-virus…..
      Apple’s iOS isn’t a monopoly.

      1. Martin Brinkmann said on September 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm

        As a user, I do not really care if they are or not as they are limiting me on their system. So, I do not like Microsoft’s Windows RT limitation, nor Apple’s iOS limitation.

  4. Anonymous said on September 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

    What this really comes down to is…the bottom line. It benefits Apple to do what they do. Firefox is of zero consequence to the majority of users on iOS, and thusly, to Apple. As a developer, regardless of platform, I work around the “features” put in place for the masses. This too follows suit. The smart ones will prevail, no matter what. How much we choose to prevail, and how we ally ourselves will determine the success of our goals. Numbers don’t lie. And the numbers of today, will be gone tomorrow. Choose wisely.

  5. Krishna said on September 1, 2012 at 7:08 am

    This is not the proper forum. A couple of days ago Martin wrote about Google Tax and newspapers.

    The Google news box on my igoogle home page is blank since day before yesterday with this message:
    Unable to retrieve: tabnews/tabnews.xml

  6. Xi said on September 1, 2012 at 6:09 am

    This is good news for Windows/Linux Users! The firefox will further improve the browsers under Windows & Linux platform! This will be useful for Windows 8 Tablets & Smartphones!

  7. zinc said on September 1, 2012 at 5:41 am

    I’ve always wondered myself how Apple avoids the anti-trust suits that MS keeps getting hit with.

    Too many “fanboys” in politics?
    Surely the lawyers don’t care who they sue…

    Can’t a member of the public initiate a class-action?

    1. ilev said on September 1, 2012 at 8:10 am

      Apple isn’t a OS monopoly.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on September 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Probably because no one is lobbying hard enough to notify them about it.

  8. Jeffrey Ryan said on September 1, 2012 at 4:30 am

    While this situation may be a downer for many users, I use Xmarks to sync my bookmarks, no matter what browser I’m using. It’s iOS compatible as well.

  9. anony said on September 1, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Can’t they sue Apple for that anti competitive policy?

  10. Matt said on September 1, 2012 at 1:05 am

    It’s these sort of crippling restrictions on apps that make it easy for me to completely dismiss Apple devices as possible purchases.

    1. ilev said on September 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

      And Windows 8 RT/Microsoft store

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