• Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Three years after its revamp, Firefox’s Android browser adds 450+ new extensions

Three years after its revamp, Firefox's Android browser adds 450+ new extensions

For the sliver of the market that opts for Firefox instead of Chrome, the default browser on Android devices, the experience just got better. Firefox maker Mozilla announced today the launch of over 450 new extensions — aka browser add-ons — which are now available on Mozilla’s Firefox Browser Add-ons page. These extensions allow users to customize the mobile browser to their needs, whether that involves adding anti-tracking privacy tools, content blockers, productivity tools or other features that introduce new experiences, like streaming music, or those that allow users to personalize the browser’s user interface — like switching all websites to a dark mode or offering a better way to manage tabs.

The lack of extensions has been an issue for Firefox for Android users for years following the 2020 launch of a rebuilt version of the mobile browser that replaced the app’s previous codebase with “GeckoView,” a new, faster and more customizable browser engine. At the time, the company said it made a decision to limit the supported extensions to only those within the “Recommended Extensions” program — meaning those that were commonly installed by end users. This choice allowed Mozilla to quickly get the new browser into consumers’ hands, but squashed the long tail of extension development — and opportunity for software developers focused on this market.

While Firefox’s nightly builds later enabled more extensions, the publicly available Firefox for Android browser did not have access to these hundreds of extensions, meaning most of Firefox’s mainstream users were also without.

In August of this year, Mozilla said it had finally completed the infrastructure needed to bring the open extension ecosystem back to Firefox for Android. It then began to test and make hundreds more extensions available to Firefox for Android users, culminating in today’s news that there are now 450+ extensions available.

The company stressed the importance of having an open ecosystem, noting that nearly half of all Firefox desktop users have an extension installed to customize their experience.

Many of the recommended extensions for the Android browser have user numbers in the six digits or more, but the app itself only retains a small slice of the mobile browser market, due to the traction that the default browsers, Chrome and Safari, have achieved on Android and iOS, respectively. On mobile devices, Firefox has a mere 0.5% market share as of November 2023, according to data on StatCounter. By comparison, Chrome has a 64.23% share. Safari, Samsung’s browser, Opera and others are also ahead of Firefox in the mobile browser race.

Still, the app has a small but devoted following, including those who are looking for alternative options from others beyond the Big Tech giants. One of its key selling points is automatic tracker blocking, which appeals to the more privacy-minded. Per Google Play Store data, Firefox for Android has topped 100 million installs to date.

“The opportunity for innovation is vast,” said Giorgio Natili, Firefox’s director of Engineering, in an announcement about the extensions’ launch. “It’s thrilling to see extension developers embrace this moment and create novel browsing experiences and features for Firefox for Android users. People don’t have to browse the mobile web in a strictly singular way anymore. With extensions, you’re free to change the way Firefox for Android looks and behaves. It’s only going to get better as more developers innovate within this exciting new space,” he added.

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