Like browser those before it, Skyfire promises to bring the PC Web experience to the hand. Unlike these others, Skyfire seems to deliver, even surpassing Apple’s much (and I must say ) deservedly hyped Safari browser on the iPhone.
We got the chance to see Skyfire, which is about to enter a private beta period, in action the other day.
Unlike the iPhone, Skyfire seemed to handle most any Web site thrown at it. The reason: it supports all the important Web standards—including dynamic Flash, advanced Ajax, and Java—used in site development today, something the mobile version of Safari does not.
When you head over to a site, Skyfire displays the whole splash page. To zoom in on any section, simply tap that part of the screen. Skyfire will automatically fit text and other content to a smartphone’s screen, so as to minimize scrolling. It also supports thumbnail views.
You really notice the difference between Skyfire and other browsers when viewing multimedia, however. Take YouTube, for example. Skyfire loads the whole index page of the PC, not the mobile, edition of the popular video site.
And because Skyfire supports Flash, videos run directly within the browser when you go to view them. This goes for any site, of which their are many, that sport a Flash (video or animated) component.
By contrast, since Safari does not support Flash, you can’t access YouTube or any other sites’ Flash content. Instead, to view YouTube videos on the iPhone you must use Apple’s proprietary YouTube application, which is completely separate from Safari and only plays videos after they’ve been converted to an iPhone-friendly format.
“Skyfire’s ability to support Flash video can give a shot in the arm to consumption of video on smartphones which currently stands at 18.4 percent,” according to M:Metrics senior analyst Seamus McAteer. “Technologies that improve the user experience of mobile applications will bolster the adoption of mobile media as it becomes increasingly mainstream.”
In addition to a broad level of compatibility, Skyfire promises its browser will load sites on a smartphone at speeds comparable to a broadband connection to a PC—be it over a Wi-Fi, 2.5G or 3G wireless connection. This certainly appeared to be true in the demo we saw.
Skyfire’s quick speed is a direct result of all content not being delivered to the end user directly, but only after it has been optimized through the company’s proxy server, a process similar to but apparently done much better than what Palm’s blazer browser does. Skyfire’s sever does all the heavy lifting, processing videos for example, before sending the page onto a smartphone or handheld.
The browser includes some additional features aimed at simplifying the mobile browsing experience. For example, when a user conducts a Web search from the home page, the browser pulls results from multiple search engines and displays the results in multiple tabs that consumers can easily navigate.
In addition, users can bookmark specific locations on a Web page to get to the content that matters most to them quickly. This could include stock quotes, sports scores, blog messages, etc.
The Skyfire private beta (you can sign up for it here) is for Windows Mobile 5 and 6 smartphone users in the U.S. only. Skyfire Support for Symbian phones is next, followed by versions for other mobile platforms, perhaps later this year. The company also plans to expand Skyfire support to markets outside this country.