Firefox for iOS

Firefox on iPad

I switched to Firefox on my work laptop a couple of months ago and it went so well that I thought I’d give it a try on iOS too. It hasn’t gone quite as well, but I think I’m in it for the long haul anyway, if only because I think it’s important to support alternatives. And incredibly important to support alternatives on a platform with artificial limitations on those competing with the platform owner.

The only way to change the limitations on iOS is to bump up against them and encourage Apple to make changes when possible. So I thought I’d share the notes I’ve taken over the past month using Firefox on iPhone and iPad — the biggest pain points I’ve experienced during that timeframe. Some of these are Firefox-specific where others are more generalized complaints about the state of third-party browsers on iOS in general.

  • Shortcuts’ Open URLs action always opens in Safari instead of your system’s default web browser.
  • Firefox’s URL scheme doesn’t support opening multiple URLs in tabs, it can only be used to open a single URL.
  • File downloads often don’t work at all. For example, I use AllTube to download YouTube videos as audio files, it always works in Safari, but results in simply loading the audio file within the current Firefox tab, without an option to save it to Files.
  • If you open an image file’s URL in Firefox, there’s no way to save it to Files, it can only be saved to the Photos app.
  • When opening links from external applications, if you’ve closed all tabs, you end up with two tabs — one empty tab and a tab with the link you opened.
  • The ad blocking built-in to Firefox is pretty weak. So the only option to improve it is to use a DNS-based solution. But that’s a little more difficult to bypass if you have trouble with a page. Apple should let third-party browsers use Safari Content Blockers.
  • No way to search browser history.
  • Bookmarks are buried two clicks within a menu and there’s a forced folder structure.
  • No way to add websites to your Home Screen from Firefox.
  • There’s no option to download directly to the Downloads folder in iCloud Drive. This makes downloading a file from a website and then uploading it to another website a cumbersome experience.
  • The “Get Details of Safari Webpage” action in Shortcuts only works on Safari webpages. It doesn’t work in Firefox.
  • No way to open multiple webpages side-by-side using Split View in Firefox.
  • No support for extensions, which Safari will add support for in iOS 15 and Firefox currently has support for on Android.
  • Firefox and all other third-party web browsers are forced to use WebKit as their rendering engine on iOS.

Even with all these faults, though, I’m sticking with Firefox for the foreseeable future. One of the primary reasons being the ability to add a custom default search engine to Firefox, which isn’t possible on Safari. I have a SearX instance setup and I prefer it to any of the options available in Safari.

But I’m going to keep complaining about the pain points. Because I want Apple to fix them. Because fixing those pain points will improve the platform for developers and users alike.