Firefox on the iPhone?

You may know that Opera submitted its Opera Mini browser to Apple’s App Store last month. This move was a combination of optimism and chutzpah because Apple has historically refused to accept apps that duplicate the iPhone’s/iPad’s functionality. In this case the Opera Mini browser would clearly duplicate Safari’s functionality. Nevertheless, Apple approved the browser and the iPhone suddenly had an alternative to Safari and I started wondering whether this was a turning point for app approvals in the App Store.

Last night I was thinking about related news that hit the feeds after the recent iPhone OS 4.0 announcement and the controversy over changes to Apple’s iPhone Developer License Agreement. The controversy was over the amended clause 3.3.1 which now reads as follows:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Developers are required to agree to these terms before they can submit apps to the App Store. The controversy over Apple limiting development platforms/languages that are approved for app development was vaguely interesting to me mainly because it is regarded as Steve Jobs’ further attack on Adobe and Flash in particular. What was really interesting to me is this line:

… only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs …

Firefox logo-only.pngThe reason why this interests me so much is a quote in an unrelated article in TechRadar UK in February about a Firefox version for Android. Here is the quote:

Sullivan pointed out that the reason for the delay was based on the underlying code:

“Android has been built on a Java platform, whereas [Firefix Mobile] is based on C and C++ code. Until last year when [the Open Handset Alliance] released the NDK (native development kit) which allowed native code as part of the app, it was simply impossible.”

While I am not a developer and may be missing some pretty important nuances, it seems to me that Firefox is developed using the same language/s as the language/s approved for iPhone app development: C and C++.

Given that Apple has approved Opera Mini for the App Store, could this mean that we could see Firefox on the iPhone, iPod Touch and, brace yourself, the iPad? I find that prospect really exciting, personally. While Safari is a pretty good browser and you should be able to do pretty much whatever you need to do with a browser on those devices, opening the door to a Firefox browser on those devices could be a big boost to the browser and give users a powerful alternative that uses technologies like Weave to ensure integration and synchronization across devices, all running Firefox.

Update: I just browsed to the Mozilla wiki page dealing with mobile builds for other platforms and found this bit about an iPhone option:

We have no plans to release Firefox for iPhone. The iPhone SDK Agreement requires browsers to use Apple’s own JavaScript engine, or none at all (like Opera Mini, which downloads pre-rendered pages from Opera’s servers and cannot run JavaScript code on the iPhone). Because of this, we have no supported way to distribute Firefox’s rendering and JavaScript engine to iPhone users.

However, we are working Firefox Home for iPhone, an iPhone app that uses Firefox Sync to access your Firefox bookmarks, browsing history, and tabs. It uses Safari’s WebKit engine to browse on the iPhone.



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