Well, I finally
downgraded upgraded to iOS 11, which means trying out the mobile version of Firefox1 and revisiting the Firefox experience as a whole. While Quantum on the desktop did show effort from the UI team to modernize, my biggest takeaway is that both the mobile and desktop UIs still have a lot of catching up to do. I mentioned previously how the inferiority of Firefox’s URL bar might keep me on Chrome, and the reality is that this is not an outlier. Both the desktop and mobile UI teams seem to be grasping desperately at some outdated user paradigms, and the result is software that simply feels clumsy. While I have always been a proponent of adhering to OS widgets and behaviors as much as possible, this is only strengthened on mobile where certain interaction models feel inextricable from the platform.
All of this to bring me to my first and most serious complaint about Firefox Mobile: no pull-to-refresh. I believe this was a UI mechanism introduced by Twitter, but it’s so ingrained into the mobile experience at this point that I get extremely frustrated when it doesn’t work. This may seem petty, but to me it feels as broken as the URL bar on desktop.
A UI decision that I thought I would hate, but am actually fairly ambivalent on, is the placement of navigation buttons. Mobile Chrome puts the back button with the URL bar, hiding it during text entry, and hides stop/refresh in a hamburger menu (also by the URL bar). Firefox Mobile has an additional bar at the bottom with navigation buttons and a menu (much like mobile Safari). I don’t like this UI, it feels antiquated and wasteful, but I don’t hate it as much as I expected to. One thing that I do find grating is the menu in this bar. I have a very difficult time remembering what is in this menu vs. the menu in the URL bar. The answer often feels counterintuitive.
In my previous post about desktop Firefox, I was ecstatic about the ability to push links across devices, something I’ve long desired from Chrome. It worked well from desktop to desktop, and it works just as well on mobile. This is absolutely a killer feature for folks who use multiple devices. Far superior to syncing all tabs, or searching another device’s history. On the subject of sync, mobile Firefox has a reader mode with a save-for-later feature, but this doesn’t seem to integrate with Pocket (desktop Firefox’s solution), which makes for a broken sync experience.
Both Chrome and Firefox have QR code detection on iOS, and both are quick and reliable (much quicker and more reliable than the detection built into the iOS 11 camera app). Chrome pastes the text from a read QR code into the URL bar; Firefox navigates to the text contained in the code immediately. That’s a terrifyingly bad idea.
A few additional little things:
- A security note that’s less severe than the QR code thing, but still concerning – if you want your stored login info (read: saved passwords) to be protected (by PIN and/or Touch ID), you need to set that up. Chrome hides this behind Touch ID by default. Firefox’s whole marketing angle is security and privacy, and they haven’t been good at either lately.
- Mobile Firefox has a night reading mode which attempts to make things light-on-dark while generally preserving colors. It’s a neat idea, and fairly well-implemented, though I have run into some rendering bugs from it.
- I like Chrome’s auto-search results list better than Firefox’s (which seems different for the sake of being different), but both are usable.
- I like Firefox’s open tabs view better than Chrome’s. Chrome’s is kind of card-based, whereas Firefox has this grid of miniaturized websites, showing a lot more at a given time.
- Chrome has a far more practical approach to opening URLs on the clipboard. It just comes up as an option in the auto-suggestion list when you’re typing into the bar. Firefox basically gives you one chance when you switch to the app.
- Firefox allows Duckduckgo as the default search engine while Chrome does not.
- Firefox has a very convenient toggle to allow you to refrain from loading images.
- Mobile Firefox does not seem to have the ‘live bookmark’ RSS feature of desktop Firefox.
- Firefox also has ‘Focus’, a dedicated
pornprivate browsing app. It’s… handy, I guess? But I’m not sure it has strong advantages over using a private browsing mode in Firefox or Chrome.
Finally, a few additional thoughts on desktop Firefox (Quantum), now that I’ve gotten a bit of additional use in:
- Chrome’s status-bar download interface is far superior, in my opinion.
- I maintain that Firefox feels snappier than Chrome, but if a background tab has been suspended, it takes longer to spring to life than in Chrome. Firefox does seem to be better at remembering a cached state of a tab that it’s bringing back vs. simply reloading.
- Making Firefox’s UI decent takes some preference-hunting, and even in its best state, Chrome still feels more modern. This is a theme across desktop and mobile Firefox – the UI team seems to be trying, but still largely stuck in a sort of late-90s hacker mentality.
- Firefox clearly has the superior sync technology, and type-to-search is a godsend.
- I’m not going to go out of my way to test Firefox on Android. This post only refers to Firefox on iOS as far as the mobile version is concerned. ↩︎