New tablet UI for Firefox on Android

The new tablet UI for Firefox on Android is now available on Nightly and, soon, Aurora! Here’s a quick overview of the design goals, development process, and implementation.

Design & Goals

Our main goal with the new tablet UI was to simplify the interaction with tabs—read Yuan Wang’s blog post for more context on the design process.

In 36, we focused on getting a solid foundation in place with the core UI changes. It features a brand new tab strip that allows you to create, remove and switch tabs with a single tap, just like on Firefox on desktop.

The toolbar got revamped with a cleaner layout and simpler state changes.

Furthermore, the fullscreen tab panel—accessible from the toolbar—gives you a nice visual overview of your tabs and sets the stage for more advanced features around tab management in future releases.

Development process

At Mozilla, we traditionally work on big features in a separate branch to avoid disruptions in our 6-week development cycles. But that means we don’t get feedback until the feature lands in mozilla-central.

We took a slightly different approach in this project. It was a bit like replacing parts of an airplane while it’s flying.

We first worked on the necessary changes to allow the app to have parallel UI implementations in a separate branch. We then merged the new code to mozilla-central and did most of the UI development there.

This approach enabled us to get early feedback in Nightly before the UI was considered feature-complete.

Implementation

In order to develop the new UI directly in mozilla-central, we had to come up with a way to run either the old or the new tablet UIs in the same build.

We broke up our UI code behind interfaces with multiple concrete implementations for each target UI, used view factories to dynamically instantiate parts of the UI, prefixed overlapping resources, and more.

The new tab strip uses the latest stable release of TwoWayView which got a bunch of important bug fixes and couple of new features such as smooth scroll to position.


Besides improving Firefox’s UX on Android tablets, the new UI lays the groundwork for some cool new features. This is not a final release yet and we’ll be landing bug fixes until 36 is out next year. But you can try it now in our Nightly builds. Let us know what you think!

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