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Skyfire: Mobile Browsing On Steroids

SkyfireIf you’ve ever used a browser on a mobile device, you know what kinds of issues you can run into. Pages are either a watered-down “mobile” version of the full page, or if the device can render the desktop version of the page, the device frequently runs out of memory and can’t do things like play flash videos and the like.

On Friday, I got to watch a demo of Skyfire over Skype Video given by Skyfire CEO Nitin Bhandari. Skyfire is a mobile browser that aims to bring the full PC browsing experience to your mobile handset. Obviously, they can’t do much about the difference in screen size, but they can make the user interface non-intrusive–the elements “go away” when they aren’t in use–and they are minimal, but elegant.

The browser is kind of like Opera Mini in that it requires a special backend proxy to do a fair amount of preprocessing on the content. The rendering engine on the device itself, though, is Gecko, i.e. the same thing used in Firefox on the desktop. This combination, though, is able to deliver a very compelling browser experience on a mobile handset.

In the live demo, I saw a Skyfire-rendered version of ESPN. I compared it to the version rendered on my Mac, and it was identical. Skyfire even played the embedded flash video fairly well. I tried the same site on my Nokia N95 and it ran out of memory trying to render the site.

I specifically asked about how SSL (encrypted) web pages were dealt with. Because it’s a “man in the middle” and by it’s very nature, has to see and repurpose the web pages for your device, it will see all of your encrypted, private data that passes through the service. That being said, I was assured they understand this issue, have taken steps to minimize the likelihood your private data will leak outside their servers, and will spell it out in the privacy policy.

Skyfire is entering a private beta period for Windows Mobile devices in the U.S.. I was told to expect an Nokia S60 version of this browser sometime this quarter and expect other platforms and geographies later on.

I can’t wait until I see this in person. The demo I saw looked really promising.


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