Windows Mobile users should be very familiar of Skyfire, the third-party “browser”–more explanation on why I am putting that in quotations below–that allowed the now archaic Microsoft OS to render and display content with popular plug-ins and standards that were not supported by the operating system, including Flash. Since then, Skyfire has made it to other platforms, including Android, and most recently, as of yesterday, to iPhone users. However, just as quickly as Skyfire had appeared in the App Store for download, it was pulled, and this time the culprit wasn’t the control nuts at Apple–it as due to overwhelming user demand.
Sidebar: I should also preface in this post that I am using the word “browser” very loosely–I had written about Skyfire before on another site and was slammed for calling it a browser. Essentially, uber geeks will be reluctant to call it a browser since it does server-side rendering rather than rendering content on the device. For the consumers who are reading this, it is a browser and I won’t try to confuse you. Now, on to the good stuff…
According to the company’s blog, the browser has been “sold out” and removed from the App Store: “Skyfire for iPhone has been received with unbelievable enthusiasm. Despite our best attempts and predictions, the demand far exceeds our initial projections.” Skyfire is saying that they are trying to increase server capacity to meet user demands, and will explore re-introducing their app back into the store once they’re ready. Given how popular the browser is, we’re hoping that’s sooner than later.
Since the iPhone’s inception, there has been plenty of talk about Adobe Flash. Steve Jobs, who exerts meticulous control over the iOS ecosystem, says that Flash isn’t optimized for a mobile device and calls Adobe out for being stagnant on development. Since then, a war of words between Adobe and Apple had been brewing over openness. With Skyfire, because Flash content is rendered and translated on a remote server and streamed to the iPhone in HTML5, users were briefly given a taste of Flash on a mobile iOS device and they seem to want it.
But before Skyfire had appeared on the scene with its nice user interface and attractive $3 introductory price, there’s also another browsing solution for the iPhone called Cloud Browse, which essentially does something similar. Cloud Browse gives users access to a “remote desktop” to look at a version of Mozilla’s browsers from afar, allowing net surfers to see Flash content that way. However, unlike Skyfire, the app was free but there’s a subscription cost for more premium, faster services.
Despite a slower free service and a faster premium subscription service, Cloud Browse was also a very popular service for iOS users. When I had used the company’s solution in the early days, I couldn’t log on sometimes as all the available slots to log-on were taken.
Despite Flash having its quirks on mobile devices and the big push towards HTML5 as a standard for Internet video and interactive content as an alternative, mobile users seem to still want Flash content as the popularity behind Skyfire and Cloud Browse have demonstrated. I’ve played around with Android 2.2, which has native Adobe Flash 10.1 Mobile support, and my experiences have been mixed. Lots of sites do work, and most Flash-based games work, but a lot of popular streaming videos from Fox and NBC still do not work on mobile, and ABC’s player was choppy at best when I got that to work. However, because there is so much content available on Flash, and because the Internet experience looks and feels–for better or worse–more like a desktop experience with Flash, having Flash on a mobile browser, even in limited form, gives a richer experience of the desktop browsing experience, complete with annoying banner ads and gratifying Internet videos of your baby nephew taking his first steps.
Steve Jobs is right–Flash does eat up more juice–but not to the gross levels that he has described. When companies are pitching convergence products–tablets and smartphones–I expect them to offer me the full Internet. Forget compatibility with Microsoft Office or the ability to integrate with Adobe Photoshop, these newfangled devices that are entering mainstream are pitched as content consumption devices. For the privilege that I am paying out $500 or even $1,000 to get the latest and greatest, I really expect to be able to consume Internet videos from my favorite TV or cable stations, to be able to exploit the full potential of the worldwide Web. When that happens, please also do give me the option to block pop up ads.