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Mozilla unveils first public preview of Firefox for iPhone, iPad

The preview will first launch in New Zealand but then spread to other countries as Firefox tries to break into the world of iOS.

Mozilla will try to win over iPhone and iPad users with its first mobile browser for iOS. Mozilla

Firefox is taking its next big step at trying to carve out a chunk of the iOS market.

The first public preview of the Mozilla browser for iPhones and iPads has started rolling out to users in New Zealand, the company announced in a blog posted Thursday. The goal is to grab feedback from people in one country before expanding the mobile browser to other countries, leading up to a full public global launch later this year.

Desktop versions of Firefox are already available for Windows PCs ( including Windows 10) and Macs, while a mobile edition exists for Android devices. In the past, Mozilla had nixed the idea of an iOS version, saying that Apple's mobile OS was too closed off for third-party browsers. But the company changed its mind late last year after Apple launched iOS 8 with a friendlier environment for non-Apple browsers. There's also the matter of iOS being a huge market. A December tweet posted 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."

Being late to the iOS party, though, Firefox faces an uphill battle catching up with such rivals as Apple's built-in mobile Safari and Google Chrome, both of which are popular on the mobile front, as evidenced by the latest stats from Web tracker NetMarketShare. Firefox has also seen demand drop for its desktop version as Chrome has gained more traction among PC users. But the mobile market is of key importance since users increasingly are browsing the Web via their smartphones and tablets rather than their computers.

Just what will the iOS version of Firefox offer? In its blog, Mozilla mentioned three key features so far.

Intelligent Search lets you choose your default search provider and also provides suggested search results. A Firefox Account feature allows you to sync your Firefox passwords, tabs and browser history from your desktop to your iPhone or iPad. The new preview release also includes a Visual Tabs page with thumbnails of your open tabs.

New features will pop up over time based on user feedback as Mozilla preps for the worldwide release of Firefox. The public preview contains an option in the Settings screen through which you can send your feedback directly to the company.

"Our goal is to create a great browsing experience for iOS with Firefox," Mozilla said in its blog post. "With this first public preview we will be collecting feedback in one country, before we extend availability to get feedback in a few more countries prior to a full public launch. Feedback from this preview release will help us build new features and bring Firefox for iOS to the App Store in the rest of the world later this year."

Those of you who'd like to try out Firefox for iOS can enter your email address at the sign-up page to be notified when the public preview reaches your country.