Mozilla wants to bring Firefox to the iPad. The company is showing off a prototype iPad browser dubbed “Junior.”
Firefox for the iPad won’t be the first alternative browser for Apple’s iOS — iCab Mobile, Dolphin, Mercury, Opera Mini, and several others are already available — but it might be the first with a name most iPad users will recognize. (Google is also reportedly working to bring a version of its Chrome browser to iOS.)
Judging by what you can see in the video below, the name might be the only thing Firefox fans will recognize in Junior.
Due to Apple’s iOS restrictions, Firefox for the iPad would use the same WebKit rendering engine found in Safari for the iPad. As with the rest of the alternative web browsers available for the iPad, Firefox for the iPad’s distinction will lie solely in its user interface and features.
Alex Limi, Mozilla’s User Experience Lead for Firefox, says in the video that the motivation behind Junior wasn’t just to get Firefox on the iPad, but to “reinvent the browser for a new form factor.” “We wanted to make something entirely new,” says Limi, who goes on to add that while Safari for the iPad is “the best browsing experience on a tablet,” it’s still “a pretty miserable experience.”
Mozilla believes it can do better.
Mozilla’s idea of an “entirely new” browser thus far consists mainly of a full screen browsing experience that dispenses with any browser chrome and tabs (something the first version of Safari for the iPad also lacked). Instead you’ll find two buttons toward the bottom of the screen, at roughly thumb height when holding the iPad in portrait mode.
The left-hand button is the back button. The right side harbors a plus button, which brings up a page switching and speed dial interface that’s reminiscent of Opera’s expanded tab view — thumbnails of the actual page rather than just labeled tabs. Both buttons are also hiding some extra features that are revealed only when you press and hold them. Hold down and you’ll reveal features like reload and forward on the left side and some sharing buttons on the right.
Perhaps the best idea Limi mentions in the Junior demo is the ability to create separate user accounts. A simple swipe to the left of the main navigation page will bring up a user login menu. If you share your iPad with other family members you already know that maintaining separate Facebook, Google and other logins is a pain in Safari for the iPad. Junior’s proposed accounts interface would eliminate that headache.
Junior is still very clearly a prototype and many of its user interface ideas are still up in the air. In other words, don’t look for Junior to actually ship any time soon. Junior is also forcing Mozilla to come up with a new building and testing process — the company can’t release test builds via Apple’s App Store as it can on other platforms. According to the video the company is still developing the best way to build and test prototypes. We’ll be sure to let you know when there’s something available publicly.