Mozilla has tried to break into the mobile browsing market a few times with iterations of its Firefox browser on both iOS and Android. Unfortunately, good as the Firefox mobile browser is, it struggled to make headway on either platform. Now, Mozilla is looking to change that.
The difficulties on iOS can be attributed to Apple’s insistence on using WebKit and refusal to let users pick anything but Safari as a default browser.
Android, on the other hand, is a different story. Users can choose to use any browser they want, although using Chrome does have benefits — many apps use Chrome as the underlying engine for their in-app browsers. While you can change this as well, I find the Chrome version works best and most consistently.
Regardless, Firefox on Android has a more significant problem than competing with Chrome. The Android version of the browser never really felt right, nor was it well designed.
However, Mozilla is testing a new Android browser called Firefox Fenix that looks set to change that.
We first learned about Fenix back in March. At the time, users could only download a development APK from an external source to try it out. Now, Fenix is on the Play Store, but you’ll need to jump through some hoops to get it.
How to download the Fenix preview from the Play Store
First up, you’ll need to join a Fenix Nightly Google Group using the same account as the one used with the Play Store. Once you join the group, click the link from ‘Step 2‘ at the top, which will ask you to opt into receiving Nightly builds. Finally, you can go to the Play Store to download the app.
Further, this all falls in with Mozilla’s plan to pull developers away from Firefox for Android. The company announced last summer that after the release of version 68, Firefox for Android would move to the Extended Support Release (ESR) branch. In other words, it will continue to receive security updates but no new features, which should free up developers to work on Fenix instead.
Version 68 is due out on July 9th, 2019. On top of that, a support document about the company’s Android browsers suggests Firefox — codenamed ‘Fennec’ — will reach end-of-life in 2020. Presumably, Fenix will take over at that point.
If you’re an avid Firefox fan, I’d highly recommend downloading and testing out the Fenix preview. It already feels miles ahead of Firefox for Android. The modern design looks fantastic, and it is incredibly quick. Plus, Fenix supports syncing bookmarks through your Firefox account. It even has a dark mode.
Despite that, it is still a preview build, and as such has some stability issues and missing features. Mozilla is also using this as an opportunity to try out some new features, such as a revamped tab manager and a new ‘Collections’ function for saving groups of tabs.
But if this early preview is anything to go by, the future of Firefox is bright.