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Firefox finally launches for the iPhone and iPad

Mozilla's browser is now available for folks on Apple's mobile operating system, but it's going up against the tried and true Safari.

Will iOS users who like Safari and Chrome give the new Firefox browser a shot?
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Firefox is now officially an iOS app.

Launched on Apple's App Store Thursday, Firefox is the latest major mobile browser available to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users.

Apple's built-in Safari is the default browser for iOS, the software that powers those Apple devices, and Google's Chrome has long been available for them. Opera also makes a browser for Apple's mobile devices, though its not nearly as popular as its rivals.

Late to the party, Firefox faces an uphill battle duking it out with Safari and Chrome. The mobile market is a priority for browser makers since users increasingly are browsing the Web via their smartphones and tablets rather than desktop and laptop computers.

Firefox will attempt to lure users with a variety of features.

The browser keeps track of all your open pages using visual thumbnails, so you can see and jump to any recent page. You can open as many tabs as you want without losing your open pages. Every tab you open is numbered, so you can add and find Web content for each one.

You can choose your default search provider, including Google, Yahoo and Bing as well as Amazon, Twitter, Wikipedia and DuckDuckGo. Firefox also lets you easily switch from one to another.

Concerned about security? You can open a new Web page in a private browsing mode so your history and cookies aren't saved. You can also delete your browsing history, passwords and other private data with just one tap.

Set up a Firefox Account, and you can sync your browsing history, tabs and passwords to Firefox for iOS from PCs and other devices that run the browser. Firefox can also keep track of the passwords you use across different devices.

Finally, you can save Web pages to a reading list so you can read them offline.

Mozilla initially resisted a move to iOS, saying that Apple's mobile operating system was too closed for third-party browsers. It changed its mind late last year after Apple launched iOS 8 with a friendlier environment for non-Apple browsers. There's also a sizable audience to be considered. A tweet almost a year ago by Mozilla release manager Lukas Blakk said simply: "We need to be where our users are so we're going to get Firefox on iOS."

Because of restrictions imposed by Apple, this version of Firefox uses the same core browser technology as Safari, a software package called WebKit, not Mozilla's own competing Gecko package. Just as Google has done with Chrome on iOS, Mozilla has put a Firefox wrapper around Apple's browsing technology.

"The iOS share of the mobile market continues to grow, and we are always looking for new ways to bring people into the Firefox ecosystem," a Mozilla spokesman said. "Being on iOS and giving people a connected Firefox experience helps us achieve that goal."

Firefox for iOS is free to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users and is optimized for the large screen of the iPad Pro.