Firefox For iOS Begins Its Beta Testing Program

Mozilla’s Firefox browser for iOS is nearing public release, as the organization is now actively recruiting beta testers willing to try the app ahead of its App Store debut. A recent survey sent to potential testers is asking for details about which devices they own, and instructs them that the beta will require a version of iOS 8 or higher in order to work. It also reminds testers that the beta build will “have some bugs and break at times,” which is why Mozilla needs testing and feedback.

For years, Mozilla had been saying that it wouldn’t release a version of Firefox for iOS because Apple would not allow it to use its own web engine on its platform. But in December, the organization changed its tune and announced that it was then in the early stages of testing a browser that would offer a “Firefox-like experience” for iOS users.

That is, Firefox for iOS will basically be a user interface on top of WebKit and the Nitro JavaScript engine, instead of using Mozilla’s own technologies under the hood. However, the browser should be capable of offering a number of the consumer-facing features, like support for Firefox accounts, bookmark-syncing tools and more.

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The move to expand Firefox to iOS comes at a time when the browser’s market share has been steadily dropping as the connected world spends ever more time on mobile devices, including Apple iPhones and iPads. On the desktop, Firefox now has an 18.27% share, behind IE’s 19.85% share, and well below Chrome’s 52.96% share, according to StatCounter.

Meanwhile, on mobile, the leading browsers tend to be those built-in to the OS: Safari, Chrome and the Android browser. Firefox barely registers with just a 0.58% share, compared with Chrome’s 30.06% share and Safari’s 39.49% share, based on data from NetApplications.

In addition, Mozilla’s more recent move to release Firefox OS, an open-source mobile operating system based on its web browser technologies, has not been able to attract significant market share.

With support iOS, however, Firefox could position its browser as one that offers more privacy controls compared with competitors like Chrome, which could appeal to consumers who are growing increasingly concerned about their ability to control access to their private data, government spying programs, and more.

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Its been a long time since Mozilla was on top, despite having once been the alternative browser that successfully challenged Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in the desktop era. As its declining share continued, the organization recently underwent restructuring, which saw its president Li Gong and a mobile VPRick Fant both leaving the company. At the time, Mozilla was also working on a larger marketing campaign focused on its “fightback” strategies, which was planning to start in Q2 2015. That campaign included plans to bring its Firefox browser to more users, including with Firefox for iOS.

We’ve asked Mozilla for additional details on the beta program, and will update with their responses.

Update, 5/22/15: Mozilla so far says it’s declining to provide further information.

Update, 5/24/15: Here’s a first look at the Firefox browser running on an iPad: