File Under: Browsers, Mobile

Firefox Aurora Brings Mozilla’s Web-App Marketplace to Android

The Firefox Marketplace in Android. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Mozilla is taking the wraps off the Firefox Marketplace, the company’s new web-app store for Firefox on Android.

Marketplace apps are only available in the newly-updated Firefox for Android 18, which is currently in the Aurora channel. To get Aurora installed on your Android phone you’ll need to be using Android 2.2 or better and make sure that the setting to allow apps from “Unknown sources” is checked. Once that’s done, head to the Aurora mobile download page and grab the latest release.

Once Aurora is installed the new Firefox Marketplace is available under the Options Menu. Choose the “Tools” item and select “Apps”. From there you’ll see a link to the Marketplace.

Given the convoluted installation and pre-beta status of Firefox 18, this release is obviously not meant for everyone. It does, however, offer developers a look at what Mozilla has been creating.

Right now the Firefox Marketplace is still rough around the edges. So far there isn’t even a way to accept payments, one of the much-touted aspects of the Marketplace. Mozilla says that payments and other common app store features like ratings and reviews are coming soon. There are plenty of free apps available already though, including Twitter, Lanyard, Todoist and quite a few games.

Installing an app from the Firefox Marketplace is as simple as clicking a button, which installs the app and adds a shortcut to the Android applications list. Mozilla has done a great job of making web-app installation indistinguishable from native apps on Android.

Firefox apps in the Android app switcher. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

The difference between native and web apps becomes more obvious when you start comparing speed side by side. For example Twitter from the Mozilla Marketplace is noticeably jerkier when scrolling compared to the native Twitter Android client.

It’s worth asking though, even if Firefox Marketplace apps matched native apps in performance, does you need web apps on Android?

The answer for most people is probably going to be no. However, building out the Firefox Marketplace on Android now ensures that the bugs are worked out and that there’s a smoothly functioning app store ready to go when Firefox OS officially launches.

And there are definitely some bugs and quirks in this early release, like the fact that in Android’s app switcher all Firefox Marketplace apps are labeled simply “App” rather than the name of the application, which can make finding what you’re after tricky when you have a lot of apps open at once.

The main purpose of this release is to work out exactly these types of kinks. As Mozilla Labs Engineering Manager Bill Walker writes on the Labs blog, “our goal is to collect as much real-life feedback as possible about the Marketplace’s design, usability, performance, reliability, and content.”

Developers interested in building apps for the Firefox Marketplace should head over to the Mozilla Developer Network and the Marketplace Developer Hub, which contain extensive documentation, FAQs and emulation tools for building Marketplace apps.