Firefox has arrived on the iPhone–sort of. Mozilla’s Firefox Home, which is now available in Apple’s App Store, brings your Firefox search history, bookmarks, and tabs to the iPhone. It does so courtesy of Firefox Sync, an add-on for desktop versions of Firefox that synchronizes multiple copies of the browser so your bookmarks, settings, and other customizations are the same in every browser you use.
Firefox Home lets you get at search history (courtesy of the Awesome Bar–just start typing and it’ll find places you’ve previously gone), bookarks, and tabs from within the app; you can load Web pages in the program, where they’re rendered by an embedded version of Apple’s Safari, or open them in Safari itself. It’s handy, but it’s nowhere near as handy as a full-blown version of Firefox for the iPhone would have been. You can’t open a new URL, or bookmark a new page, or type search queries into the address bar–it’s strictly for going back to pages you once visited on a desktop copy of Firefox. Which means it neither feels like Firefox nor is able to replace Safari as a workaday Web browser.
Why didn’t Mozilla write a full-blown version of Firefox for the iPhone, akin to Fennec, which is available for Android? Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch says that Apple wouldn’t have accepted it for the App Store. I’m not so sure that’s the case: Apple didn’t have a problem with Opera Mini landing on its phone, and I can’t imagine a just, consistent policy which would accept Opera Mini but prohibit Firefox.
But if Mozilla didn’t want to risk writing an iPhone browser from scratch that Apple might nix, there was a (relatively) easy workaround: It could have built one which relied on Safari for rendering, as Firefox Home does–but with a far higher percentage of the trimmings we’re accustomed to in desktop Firefox. All evidence says that Apple doesn’t reject these pseudobrowsers, such as the outstanding Atomic Web Browser.
Maybe Mozilla can’t bring itself to release a Firefox that’s really a gussied-up reworking of Safari. Or maybe it intends to nudge Firefox in this direction over time. I just know that I like the idea of syncing my iPhone browsing experience with Firefox, but am a lot more excited by the idea than I am by Firefox Home the product.