Mozilla rolls out Firefox 79 for Android with a year’s worth of changes
Mozilla Firefox is among the most popular alternatives to Google Chrome for both — mobile devices and desktops. Despite competition from Chrome, Mozilla Corporation — the organization behind Firefox — has been rolling out several updates over the years to keep their desktop and mobile apps relevant. After overhauling their desktop browser, known by its interim name “Firefox Quantum,” Mozilla has been working to upgrade the mobile browser — temporarily recognized as Fenix — for about a year. The new version has been available in the Preview channel (which was recently merged with the Nightly channel) for quite some time and is finally rolling out to the stable channel as Firefox 79 for Android (via AndroidPolice), albeit without one key feature.
In July 2018, Mozilla for Android entered the maintenance phase to focus on developing an entirely new version without a new codebase instead of updating the existing one. Firefox for Android hasn’t received a major update since July last year and is now making a jump straight from version 68 to 79.
Among the new feature, Firefox 79 for Android brings a clean and modern UI. The codebase and thus, the functionality is the same as the Preview builds but one feature that’s lacking on the stable build is proper support for add-ons (a.k.a. extensions). Mozilla only starting adding support for add-ons on Firefox Preview/Nightly back in February this year. It added five more add-ons in April, and then another three earlier this month. As of now, the total number of add-ons supported on the stable as well as the Nightly channels is only nine. This means that Firefox for Android loses access to thousands of extensions that were supported on the previous versions.
While it is understandable that the complete migration of add-ons to the new codebase requires time, release without proper support is bound to disappoint those who like to use specific extensions avidly. If you want to continue using those add-ons, you may have to stick to the older version of Firefox for Android. But if you’re among those who want a cleaner and faster browser experience, you can go ahead and either update the app from the Google Play Store or download the latest version from APK Mirror.
Update 1: Official Announcement
In a blog post, Mozilla announced that the new version of Firefox for Android is rolling out widely for users in Europe starting today and will roll out for users in North America on Thursday. The new update, which has version number 79, brings a new, cleaner UI with improved one-handed use, Collections, an automatic dark theme toggle, Enhanced Tracking Protection, an improved Private Mode, initial support for 9 extensions/add-ons, and most importantly, Mozilla’s new GeckoView browser engine. Mozilla has dubbed this release “Firefox Daylight” since it marks a new beginning for the company’s Android browser.
Update 2: Mozilla Addresses Backlash
Mozilla released Firefox 79 to stable last week, but users upgrading to the release noticed that it was missing several features and extensions that were previously available. Only a handful of extensions (9) are available at launch, so users who upgrade may lose access to many or all of their extensions. Since Mozilla is only accepting extensions from approved partners, extension developers can’t even push updates to make them compatible with the latest Firefox for Android release. A Mozilla employee chimed in on Reddit with a partial explanation for why, stating that some extension APIs are not implemented yet and the team is still working on integrating the main Firefox addons repository.
Now, Mozilla has penned an official blog post confirming that the company limited add-on support in the first release of Firefox 79 “in order to get the new browser to users as soon as possible.” The company wanted to reduce the burden on its developers of maintaining two different Firefox apps for Android, so they started out with “building support for add-ons in the Recommended Extensions program that were commonly installed” by users. Mozilla says that more Recommended Extensions will be enabled in the coming weeks after they’re tested and optimized. Later this month, Mozilla will also enable support for loading arbitrary extensions in the Nightly track. Interested users can track progress on this development by subscribing to this issue. While the company has not solidified its future plans for add-on support, they will work to increase support and will post updates each quarter on their progress.
The lack of extensions is the biggest reason behind why Firefox’s Play Store listing has dropped in rating (via AndroidPolice), but there are other missing features that users are complaining about. Some of the other issues include the missing about:config page (which is available in Nightly and thus coming back soon), local password migration issues, design problems with the revamped tab switcher, and more.