It’s time for another installment of Palm Discovery’s wReview Wednesday!
Very much like everyone else who was curious about the new Skyfire browser for the iPhone, I decided to plunk down the $2.99 US to purchase it and see what it was all about. After all, this is pretty much the only browser on the iPhone that can play Flash enabled video. Originally when I first saw it in the Apple’s iTunes App store, I passed on it, only to discover that it was pulled due to overwhelming popularity. When it came back, I decided to get it to get a good idea of what it was like. $2.99 US is NOT going to break my bank and also I’d be sharing about the app via a review. So, I bought it.
In the world of mobile browsers, not very many, especially those who have owned a Windows Mobile or Symbian smartphone, have not heard the name Skyfire. In fact, it’s very likely that Skyfire is their browser of choice mainly for its fast web access, webpage rendering AND most of all, its Adobe Flash support. Even nowadays, not many mobile browsers can claim to supporting Adobe flash. As sad as I am to hear about Skyfire’s recent decision to end support of their browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian, I can certainly understand their reasoning in focusing on developing for the newer and more popular platforms like Android and iPhone.
With respect to the iPhone and more specifically to the Apple iOS, it’s not a secret that Steve Jobs hates Adobe Flash saying that it’s buggy, insecure, and drains battery and I agree with the insecurity base on the number of exploits that has been discovered. Regardless, it would still be nice to be able to access Flash video as some websites still offer their videos in Flash. Especially when many other mobile platforms like Android for example, support Flash and Apple products do not, it sticks out like a very sore thumb. However, over time it’s likely that many of them will encode their sites in html5 and Flash may no longer be an issue. But until that day comes, we are stuck with either viewing those sites on our computer, or other mobile devices that support Flash or simply not view it. I guess the latter is not a viable option.
Even though Adobe flash is not supported on the iPhone, Skyfire has come up with a way to allow iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad users to view Flash enabled videos without running Flash. How is that done? Quite simply, the Flash video content is first transcoded from the Web on Skyfire’s servers and then streamed back to the iPhone. Sounds simple but it does work, although with a bit of time delay since the servers have to transcode it first before you can view it. Skyfire has said that it may take from 15 seconds to 30 seconds or so before the video can be played but those 15 seconds can seem like an awfully long wait, especially when we are so used to instantaneous video rendering on our computers.
So, today, I will be reviewing the Skyfire browser on my 4th Generation iPod Touch 64GB iPod Touch and sharing how it looks and works. I will be going over the latest version of Skyfire, version 2.1.0 (20376) which offers Facebook and Twitter quick view.
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For those who want to skip over all the detailed review and just want a summary, you can jump to the review summary
When I first read about the process by which Skyfire can render the Flash video, I was thinking, that’s kind of a roundabout way of delivering flash video. Especially when users use the browser to access Flash video exclusively, this may likely flood their servers for video requests. Even with the $2.99 pricetag, I don’t think it is likely going to generate enough revenue to keep up with the server demand. I’m not Skyfire and I’m not sure how they can continue to provide this service over time as its popularity grows but we’ll see. So in the meantime, let’s take a look at the browser and see what it’s like.
The Skyfire browser is very much like any and most mobile device browsers. It delivers web content to your iPhone. It looks and feels like many browsers out on the market today, allowing you to visit websites you want, add bookmarks to your favorite sites and share various links with your friends. You can zoom in or zoom out on a page, view different pages similar to the computer browser’s tab feature. And it also allows you to view websites designed for computers, rather than being stuck with the limited and restrictive “mobile” version. That is pretty much what the Skyfire browser can do. If you base the browser on that, $2.99 US is definitely not worth the price when you can get Opera for free.
The biggest and most popular feature of the Skyfire browser is that it can play Flash video content. Yes, that’s it. That is the main reason for the $2.99 pricetag. Considering that the iPhone is not able to render Adobe Flash, this seems to be a big deal. The Skyfire browser won’t be able to render Flash content on websites. It won’t be able to render Flash games or any other Flash content. All it can do quite simply is render Flash video. But! According to my observations, it seems that only one Flash video from a page can be viewed. So, if you visit a website that offers a few Flash videos, you can’t view the video of your choice. Whatever video that Skyfire detects and transcodes will be the only one you can view.
Therein lies my biggest peeve and disappointment with the browser. Although the browser “does” render a Flash video for playback on my iPod Touch, it may not necessarily be the video I want to view. Case in point. I tend to visit BNN.ca, a Canadian business news channel website. There are normally a choice of various different videos I can view ranging from a short clip of a program to a news segment to an entire program. As much as I like viewing any video from the site, I would like to be able to view the one(s) I am most interested in. Unfortunately, unlike a computer browser where I can select the one I want to view, the Skyfire browser for the iPhone can only “pop up” the video that it selects for transcoding. No matter how hard I try to “select” a particular video, the browser won’t be able to “select” it for video rendering. So, I’m stuck with that ONE video that I can view for that page. That is very annoying.
This is the main point where I find that the Skyfire browser fails in its claim to play Flash video. If I can’t play or view the Flash video I want and can only view the “selected” one that Skyfire provides me, then what is the use?
More details of Skyfire browser for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad (taken from Apple iTunes store)
» Please read the ‘need to know section’ before buying!
Skyfire is the best way to browse your favorite web sites, be in touch via Facebook and Twitter and enjoy millions of videos, including FLASH VIDEOS (Flash Games and Apps not supported). Access the content that matters to you: funny clips, sports and news updates, the video link your friend sent you. In addition, the innovative one-click access to Facebook and Twitter and extensive sharing options makes Skyfire a more social browsing experience.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SKYFIRE:
» Flash VIDEOS are supported; Flash Games and Flash Apps are NOT supported.
» We do NOT SUPPORT ALL WEB SITES that use Flash Video. We are working hard at it, with millions of videos already supported. But we cannot guarantee that your favorite site is already on the list.
» For users in Canada: Your countries TV website may not work in Skyfire. Examples are: CBC.ca, tou.tv, rogersondemand.com and CTV.
» Skyfire is NOT optimized for the iPad. Please be patient, we are already working on a ‘Skyfire for iPad’ version.
WHAT IS SKYFIRE?
Skyfire’s award-winning technology enables Flash video for millions of mobile users and is finally available on the iPhone. Our cloud-computing platform translates videos from Flash into an iPhone-friendly format. We unlock millions of videos that otherwise would not play on your iPhone or iPod Touch. It’s a bit of engineering magic. Over 100,000 web sites presently supported, with more added every day.
“As for actually watching Flash videos, it couldn’t be easier — once you’ve navigated to a page embedded with a video, a popup window will appear and you’re good to go.” – Engadget.com, USA
• Play millions of Flash videos – everyday, with no limits!
• All-new ‘Skybar’ toolbar gives one-click access to video and related content
• Stay in touch: Unique Facebook and Twitter ‘Quickview’ allows you to see your wall and feeds with one click. (Updated in 2.1)
• Be social: Share via Facebook and Twitter.
• Share to more services including GReader, Instapaper, Pinboard, Read It Later and Tumblr (New)
• Standard browser elements: Tabs, search, sharing, bookmarks, history, etc.
• Video search, with safe search option, helps you quickly find videos about your favorite topic
• ‘Desktop’ option loads pages as on a desktop browser, giving a greater selection of video (vs. mobile sites)
• Private Browsing option: Browse with no history and cookies left behind
• Click the ‘Explore’ button for related videos, news trends, photos and tweets!
• It may take 15-30 seconds for videos to load: Preparing goodness takes time…
What’s New In Version 2.1.0
• New: Twitter Quickview allows you to quickly peek into your Twitter stream while browsing
• New: Share to Twitter, GReader, Instapaper, Pinboard, Read It Later, Tumblr
• New: Open in new tab option (touch-&-hold a link)
• Improved Video coverage! Better coverage for sites that require log-in and for sites supporting HTML5. Check out your favorite site in ‘Desktop’ mode.
Slideshow of Skyfire browser for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Video of Skyfire browser for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Easy and simple to use
The Skyfire browser is relatively simple to use. Tap on the icons, buttons to access various features, settings. If you know how to use the iPhone, you’ll easily figure out how to use the browser.
Plays Flash video
The biggest feature of the Skyfire browser is its ability to play Flash video. Simply click on the video pop up window at the bottom to play the video. The video will play.
Can view desktop version of websites or iPhone versions
You can finally view the desktop version of websites instead of being forced into viewing the limited “mobile” version that you normally can only view on your iPhone. Should you wish to view the iPhone or mobile version instead, you can simply switch simply by changing it in the browsers settings.
Supports cache, cookies, history clearing, social websites logout
For those who are concerned about privacy, the Skyfire browser supports the clearing of the browser’s cache, cookies, history. In addition, you can also log out of social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook.
Supports page zoom
This feature has been available in the early version of the Skyfire browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian and I am pleased to see it supported in this iPhone version as well. Especially when viewing the desktop version of websites where most of the text may be too tiny to view, this feature can definitely help.
Multiple page support
The browser can support multiple page viewing, much like the Safari browser but it is still a feature that is well appreciated.
Private browsing feature
Skyfire offers a “Private Browsing” feature where you can view and visit websites for a specific browser tab without allowing any cookies or history to be stored, offering the “privacy” that the viewer desires without needing to remember to clear the history or cookies when the tab is closed.
Twitter and Facebook “Quick View” feature
This is a new feature that has been provided in the latest update. Much like the name, this feature allows a quick view of your Facebook and Twitter accounts right from within the browser. Of course, you will need to first log into your Facebook and Twitter accounts before you can view your accounts.
Share links on Facebook and Twitter
You can easily share links on Facebook and Twitter by tapping on the “+” button at the bottom right and selecting the appropriate buttons. This makes sharing something you read or viewed very easily as you don’t need to copy and paste a link but simply tap on the “+” and share.
Share links on Google Reader, Instapaper, Pinboard, Read It Later, Tumblr
You can also share links via Google Reader, Instapaper, Pinboard, Read It Later and Tumblr from within the browser. Again, you will need to log into your accounts to be able to share on those sites.
Explore feature: social networking search of terms
Explore is an interesting feature where you can “explore” more about a topic based on the website you are on. Clicking on the double wave ~ icon will bring up a variety of information and sites, images that comes up based on the search term or based on the website’s name. You can view tweets, videos, images that come up. This can be a very interesting and useful feature for those who may want more information or for research.
Feedback and suggestions on Getsatisfaction
You can provide feedback and suggestions on the Skyfire browser. Simply click on the “Feedback and Suggestions” button in the settings and you will be taken to the Skyfire’s GetSatisfaction website where you can offer your thoughts and suggestions on the browser.
Search on Google, for video and on Wikipedia available
You can search on Google, or search for videos, or even on Wikipedia for the item you have entered in the search. This offers a very unique search where you can go straight to a specific search based on your preference, rather than simply searching on Google and trying to filter out unnecessary results.
Portrait and landscape support for website and video viewing
The Skyfire browser can render websites and playback video in both portrait and landscape mode, offering the user the choice of viewing a site or video in either mode. This offers a lot of flexibility for the user, rather than being forced into viewing a video only in landscape mode, which a lot of video applications do. Having the choice is very good.
15 – 30 second wait
One of the annoyance of viewing a Flash video is the 15 to 30 second wait for the video to render and play. Although I understand the reasoning behind it, those 15 to 30 seconds seem like a LONG time to wait, especially when we are so used to instantaneous results for many things nowadays. “Good things come to those who wait” may be a mantra for those of us waiting for the video.
Flash video only supported on non password login websites
Although this may no longer apply to some secure websites (as Skyfire is confirming), flash video is still somewhat supported only on websites that do not require a secure login. This may be due to privacy issues but according to Skyfire’s FAQ, they have stated that password login websites are not supported, although they are saying now that they are, however slowly.
Only one Flash video rendered or transcoded
This is the biggest issue I have with the Skyfire browser. Although Skyfire can detect websites that offer Flash video very easily, they for whatever reason, can only play a specific video. Even if a website offers a choice of different videos, the Skyfire browser will only provide a pop up video of ONE video, possibly the first one that it detects and not the others.
Even after trying to “select” a particular Flash video in the browser, I can only view the specific video that Skyfire provides.
This is a HUGE issue for me as I would like to be able to select and view the video that I want to view, not just any one that Skyfire can detect and transcode. I would very much like to be able to select and view the video I want to view.
Until Skyfire offers this capability, I can not recommend this browser for this simple reason. Viewing only ONE video per page, specified by the Skyfire browser is NOT what I was expecting when I paid the $2.99 US (however cheap the price may be).
I do hope that Skyfire will offer that capability in a future version or update. Fingers crossed.
Only supports Flash video (not games, applications, etc)
I am a bit disappointed that the browser can only support playback of Flash video and not for games or applications which would have greatly enhanced the overall experience.
The interesting thing about the lack of Flash support on the iPhone is that, on the Windows Mobile and Symbian versions, I was able to view Flash enabled websites from within the browser. So, in this case, Skyfire has actually taken a step backwards.
iPad currently not supported but iPad version coming soon
For those who have an iPad and expected the Skyfire browser to work on your device, the sad news is that it is currently NOT supported as of yet on the iPad. However, Skyfire is working on a special iPad version especially for the device and they’re saying that it’s in the works. So keep your fingers crossed.
No bug submit option, only link to GetSatisfaction website
I find it strange that under the Feedback and Suggestions button that rather than submitting an email to the Skyfire team that they have opted instead to direct the user to a third party support page for the Skyfire browser. Perhaps they want their team to focus on the app development or whatever but I find it somewhat discouraging to be directed to a third party site instead of Skyfire. That, to me shows their lack of interest in the customer or consumer.
I would have also preferred if there was also a bug submit option or feature as well so that I could easily submit a bug report should I encounter any crashes. But, there is none and if I really wanted to (which I’m not), I guess I can log into the GetSatisfaction website and discuss it. But, I doubt I will.
I am quite disappointed in this browser for the iPhone as I was expecting it to offer much more, considering that I LOVED it on my Treo 750 and Nokia E71. However, I am using the Android version of the browser (like night and day!) and feel completely different on that version.
If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I’m sorry to say that this is probably the only thing that can play Flash video. But like I’ve mentioned already, you are stuck with viewing the one video that the browser allows for each page. My suggestion is to get an Android smartphone and thank Steve Jobs for not allowing Flash. Or just deal with it or stop viewing Flash sites altogether.
The Skyfire browser for iPhone and iPod Touch does play Flash video BUT, it does have its downsides. First, you are limited to playing only ONE video that the browser detects. If you are on a site that offers more video choices, you are out of luck on viewing those other ones. And, you will have to wait a few seconds for the video to play (Skyfire says from 15 to 30 seconds) and that may be very hard to deal with. However, if you overlook these and other downsides, you may find it works for you. You can view Flash video and the latest update offers Quick View on Facebook and Twitter, use the Private Browsing feature, view desktop versions of websites, clear cache, cookies, history and a host of other features. For me, the biggest disappointment is the one video playback which, unless and until they offer me the choice of viewing the video I want, isn’t worth my $2.99 US.
Please keep in mind that this review is based solely on my personal opinion and I know that many others will disagree with me on this one. The browser does the job but it doesn’t do the job that I expected and so I am not recommending it. However you may feel differently.
However, as much as I dislike this iPhone version of the Skyfire browser, I do enjoy the Android version of the Skyfire browser since Flash is already supported on Android and I don’t have to rely solely on the Skyfire browser to view flash video. I will likely do a review of the Skyfire browser on the Android OS in the future as it is somewhat different than this version for the iPhone.
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