Years ago, Mozilla’s “Test Pilot” initiative encouraged users to beta test mobile versions of the Firefox browser. Now, Mozilla is asking users to use its new Reference Browser to help bring a new generation of Firefox to Android phones.
Firefox is one of the most popular browsers for Android. It’s fast, can sync with the Firefox browser on your desktop, and implements tab features better than most mobile browsers. But the world of mobile phones is beginning to shift. By the end of the year, we’re going to see phones that use 5G, phones that fold open into tablets, and phones that have 1 TB of internal storage. With all of these changes coming right around the corner, Mozilla needs to bring its mobile browser to a new level.
In a post in the Mozilla community, Paul Wright, a leading Firefox contributor, announced that Mozilla is starting to build more powerful mobile apps. These apps will take advantage of Geckoview and Glean, and they’ll utilize more account integration. Presumably, the next big Firefox app for your Android phone will feel more like a proper browser and less like a phone browser.
In order to test all of this new technology, Mozilla needs some guinea pigs. That’s why the company is launching the Reference Browser, a quiet beta testing project. Users who sign up to use the Reference Browser will get a small preview of Mozilla’s new technology, and they’ll help speed up the company’s development process by providing user data and feedback.
The Reference Browser isn’t a finished product, and it isn’t meant to be anybody’s primary mobile browser. Paul Wright emphasizes that the Reference Browser should be looked at as a “technology preview,” and that Mozilla is only doing this to speed up the development of their future mobile browsers.
If you want to help Mozilla build its new browser technology, you’re going to have to sign up for the Reference Browser Google Group. Just make sure that you use the same Google account that you use to download apps in the Google Play store. Once you’re signed up, you can download the Reference Browser from Google Play. And that’s all there is to it. You’re a Test Pilot now.
Mozilla asks that users report bugs and issues to a Github group, but the company will benefit from your Reference Browser usage whether you report issues or not. As you can imagine, Mozilla is collecting a lot of data from the Reference Browser. The company has talked about how collecting data from beta programs is a necessary evil, and Test Pilots should know that they don’t have as much privacy in beta programs as they do in full versions of the Firefox browser.
Test Pilots be warned, beta browsers aren’t as safe as fully developed browsers. Paul goes on to say that Mozilla is “reasonably certain your personal data is safe” when using the Reference Browser. That’s… reassuring, yet vague. He recommends that users don’t rely too heavily on the Reference Browser and that they save a “copy of bookmarks and passwords in another copy of Firefox,” just in case anything goes wrong.