Are third-party browsers usable in iOS?

iOS doesn’t have a default browser setting (yet), which sounds crazy until you realize there’s no way to switch the mailto: protocol handler either. The browser case is interesting because all browsers on iOS are basically a skin on top of Safari; see the App Review Guidelines:

2.5.6 Apps that browse the web must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.

I’ve been trying out Firefox on my phone lately, and just discovered how powerful its share extension is.

This brings me to my main idea: using a third-party browser on iOS isn’t so bad after all.

Check out the number of taps required to open a link in Safari from an app to read later:

  1. Long-press on the link to open the share sheet.
  2. Tap “Open in Safari” in the share extension list.
  3. Tap the back button in the upper-left of the status bar.

Now if you want to open that link in Firefox:

  1. Long-press on the link to open the share sheet.
  2. Tap Firefox in the app icon collection.
  3. Tap “Load in Background”.

I know this is a cherry-picked example use case where Firefox is just as easy to use because of a feature that Safari will never need to implement thanks to its deep operating system integration.

However I—like many other homo sapiens—use “open link in new tab” all the time as an extremely short-term reading list, and it’s comforting to know that I’m not spending a extra microsecond by using a third-party browser.

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