Skyfire Web Browser In Review – Flash on the iPhone now a Reality

If you’re lucky like me (and the many other App Store lurkers) you were able to get your hands on Skyfire during its initial launch day. Claiming to be able to play just about any flash video, it was anticipated by just about everyone with an iDevice. Unfortunately, due to a massive surge of users, SkyFire’s servers crashed and the app was pulled from the App Store within 5 hours of release. The good news is that the app is now back (currently US only), and will continue to be re-released in batches in other countries. Let’s take a look and see if flash video is ready for prime time on the iPhone.

The preview images and general description of Skyfire are what drew me in. The interface looked strikingly similar to mobile Safari and it seemed like the experience would be somewhat seamless.  The layout is almost identical to Safari; using it felt very familiar and I expect others will feel the same. Some of the major differences are mostly additional buttons for things like settings, access to videos and their “explore” feature. Once you get used to the extra features and interface, I have no doubt that the app could serve as a replacement browser for some users.

Now onto the good stuff. When it comes to flash videos, what happens is when you visit a site that has one, rather than trying to load the video (which your iDevice wouldn’t be able to do normally), the app sends it to Skyfire’s servers, which converts the file it in real time to HTML 5 (format supported by Apple) and shoots it back to the browser. As this is taking place, a popup will appear from the bottom tool bar showing where the video can be played.

So how does Skyfire perform? During the initial launch phase, videos were extremely slow to load. Even video clips less than 60 seconds would take minutes to load up, which was really not acceptable when trying to watch something on the go. Thankfully, now that the app has been re-released and the servers have been upgraded to handle the load, it is running much faster than before. Videos seem to be recoded into HTML 5 in about half the time it used to take, which is a very good thing. While connected to Wifi and depending on the length of video, there is a wait time of 15-30 seconds before it actually plays. On 3G, the load times aren’t too much longer, though the quality does take a hit. And speaking of quality, the videos themselves (on WiFi at least) are relatively good, though you may still see some artifacts from streaming of compressed HTML file.

One feature that I found useful in Skyfire is the “Explore” button. In a nutshell it will find all related media and content within the page you are browsing and display it all in a nice clean list. Or, you can simply enter a search term and await the results. It’s certainly a handy feature when you are looking for something in particular, or wish to view other similar material. A couple other goodies that are included are private browsing , the ability to choose whether a webpage is loaded as a desktop or mobile version, and “Facebook Quickview”, which will allow you check your Facebook Wall with just one tap.

So far the biggest downside right now is availability. It’s only available on the US App Store at the moment, though Skyfire promises that as soon as their servers can handle more users, the app will be released once again in batches in other countries. And in case you’re hoping that Skyfire will play ALL flash content, just know that it only supports flash videos, so no games or non-video Flash content. Sure, there is the short delay before videos start and the quality isn’t as crisp as the typical YouTube experience, but as long as you can put these aside, Skyfire is a solid (and pretty much ONLY) option of bringing flash videos to the iPhone.

App Summary
Title: Skyfire Web BrowserDeveloper: Skyfire Labs, Inc.
Reviewed Ver:2.0.0Min OS Req:
Price:$2.99App Size:2.46MB
  • Watch ANY flash videos
  • Feels very familiar to Safari
  • “Explore” button makes finding similar content a breeze
  • Limited availability
  • 15-30 sec wait before videos play
  • Flash videos ONLY (no other flash web content)
  • No fast forward/rewind option

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