The new Firefox for Android is faster and can block third-party trackers by default. But Mozilla faces complaints from some who are upset with the redesign and the lack of supported third-party adds-on.
Mozilla is rolling out a new version of the Firefox browser for Android that places the URL bar at the bottom of the screen.
The tweak is part of Mozilla’s attempts to create a better user experience, which includes “some massive changes under the hood” to also improve Firefox’s loading times, the company wrote in today’s announcement.
“One of the things we were trying to accomplish was to actually sit back and imagine what a browser designed from scratch in 2020 would look like,” Mozilla SVP Dave Camp told TechLiveNews in an interview.
“Our first reaction was the thing you interact with the most (the URL bar) probably needs to be near your fingers,” he added.
We tried out the new Firefox and dig the change. With the URL bar at the bottom, the browser is easier to use, especially one-handed, and if your phone has a 6-inch screen.
The decision to relocate the URL bar also creates more screen space at the top, an area where your eyes might naturally focus. Still, users may have a love-hate response to the search bar’s placement. If you don’t like it, you can revert to traditional search bar placement by going into the browser’s settings and visiting customize.
“With regard to appearance, we redesigned the user interface of our Android browser completely so that it’s now even cleaner, easier to handle and to make it one’s own,” the company added. There’s also a dedicated dark mode, and an alternative mode that’ll try to match the color scheme to your phone’s device theme.
In addition, you can organize your numerous browser tabs into collections, which can offer an easy way to access your favorite sites on the software’s startup. (The traditional bookmarks feature is there too.)
On the privacy front, the revamped browser promises to stop websites and marketing firms from following your web presence. Mozilla’s Enhanced Tracking Protection mode is turned on by default on the browser, meaning it’ll block cross-site tracking cookies, fingerprinting techniques and other trackers social media companies have planted across websites.
Under the hood, Mozilla has elected to use its own GeckoView rendering engine, which is helping the new Firefox achieve a 10 percent speed increase over the old version when it comes to loading pages. GeckoView is also independent from Google’s Blink rendering engine when Chrome dominates the mobile market with a 64 percent share.
“This allows us to have complete freedom of choice when it comes to implementation of standards and features,” Mozilla wrote in today’s announcement. “Also, it protects our users if there are security issues with Blink as Firefox will not be affected.”
That said, not everyone is happy about the new Firefox. On the Google Play Store, the revamped browser has received numerous negative complaints from users who already received it. Some claim the company has “dumbed down” the interface, ruined the tabs and bookmarks functions, and most glaringly removed support for most add-on extensions.
Indeed, the new Firefox currently only supports nine of the most popular add-ons, but the company is working on integrating more extensions to work with new GeckoView architecture. Camp estimates it’ll take between six to 18 weeks to deepen the add-on catalog, but it’s work that will also require third-party developers to get on board.
As for the other complaints, Camp said some users may just need more time to get used to changes. Nevertheless, the company is listening to consumer feedback.
“Anytime you make a large-scale change on an established product, it’s very important to pay attention to see what users are saying and how they’re feeling,” he said. However, Camp noted many other users of the earlier Firefox betas for Android have reported liking the changes. “With test audiences, we got really good feedback and people are enjoying it on the whole,” he added.
Still, the company does plan on addressing one complaint users have of the new browser: the lack of a back button next to the URL bar. “After listening closely to user feedback, we decided to bring it back with our next update (next week!) after we learned that our users prefer to use that over the phone’s back button,” the company told PCMag.
The new Firefox for Android arrives in Europe today. It’ll then roll out to North American users on Thursday. You can download it on the Google Play Store. The add-ons available now for the new browser include: uBlock Origin, Dark Reader, Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere, NoScript Security Suite, Decentraleyes, Search by Image, YouTube High Definition, and Privacy Possum.