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Firefox gets mobile foothold from Android preinstallation deals

Second-tier phones and tablets from Gigabyte and Kobo will have the mobile browser built in, a move that could help Mozilla's ambition of having more mobile influence.

Gigabyte's Simba SX-1 Android phone will come with Mozilla's Firefox browser preinstalled.
Gigabyte's Gsmart Simba SX-1 Android phone will come with Mozilla's Firefox browser preinstalled. Gigabyte

Mozilla has a new way to persuade people to use the Android version of its Firefox browser: get hardware makers to preinstall it.

On Thursday, Mozilla announced that new Kobo Arc tablets and the Gigabyte GSmart Simba SX1 smartphone will have the nonprofit group's mobile browser built in.

That could be helpful to Mozilla, which is trying hard to extend the browser influence it has on personal computers to the fast-growing mobile realm where Apple's iOS and Google's Android browsers dominate usage statistics.

But it would be more helpful if Mozilla could get its browser on higher-profile devices -- those from top-end Android device makers like Samsung, HTC, and LG Electronics.

On Google Play, Firefox for Android has between 10 million and 50 million installations, but Google Chrome has between 100 million and 500 million even though it works only on Android 4.0 and later. And of course Google's unbranded Android browser is more widely used than either at present, though Chrome is on the rise.

Preinstallation of software on computing devices means people can more likely try or at least see software they otherwise wouldn't go out of their way to install, and it's a tried-and-true way for software developers to promote their wares. However, developers typically pay manufacturers for the privilege, and preinstalled third-party software often is called "crapware" because it can clutter otherwise pristine new computing devices.

Mozilla also is trying to improve its mobile influence through the development of Firefox OS, a browser-based operating system for smartphones that has started reaching some markets in July.