It’s an innovative approach from an organization that has often struggled against the forces of inertia. Rather than try to beat the might of Apple’s ability to dictate the default browser on iOS, as well as the company’s requirement that any other browser still use Safari’s rendering engine as its core technology, Mozilla has taken a different tack: create the category of “second browser”, and own that.
Firefox Focus is as stripped-down as a browser can be. The app boots straight in to a search bar, which searches Yahoo (only Yahoo – that can’t be changed, likely due to the $375m Yahoo pays Firefox annually to be the default search engine on the main version of the browser) for anything you ask.
But at the same time as searching Yahoo, Focus also strips out as much as it possibly can that could track you or your browsing: no cookies, no ad trackers, no analytics trackers, no social trackers. And the whole thing is permanently accompanied by a one-click Erase button in the top right corner, enabling you to clear all the info from any given session in one tap.
The organization describes Focus as “for the times when you don’t want to leave a record on your phone”.
“You may be looking for information that in certain situations is sensitive — searches for engagement rings, flights to Las Vegas or expensive cigars, for example. And sometimes you just want a super simple, super fast web experience — no tabs, no menus, no pop-ups. Firefox Focus gives you just that.”
Focus also operates as a content blocker for Safari itself, letting users block tracking services (and by extension, many adverts) in their main browser.
There are tools available on iPhones right now that will offer a similar experience to Firefox Focus — Safari’s private browsing mode, when combined with a content blocker, for instance — but the hope for the company is that it can convince users that it’s easier to click a separate app icon for those times when they need private browsing.
On the desktop, Firefox continues to be a popular browser, used by more than three times the number of people who use Internet Explorer, according to data collected by W3Schools. But the rise of mobile has led to the browser’s overall importance shrinking, with Chrome’s user share — on desktop and mobile combined — reaching almost three-quarters of the total market, and dwarfing the 15% of browsers who use Firefox.
The open-source browser, which traces its roots back to Netscape, hit its highest share of users in July 2009, when 47.9% of web surfers had it installed. At the time, Google Chrome was on just 6.5% of devices.