Skyfire, a California-based start-up that only yesterday revealed its upcoming iOS app that would allow iPhone users to view Flash content on the web, has released its app earlier than originally announced. Initially the app was set to be released at 9:00 a.m. ET tomorrow, November 4, according to reports yesterday but the app is available in the App Store today. As promised, we’ve taken it for a spin to see how it works.
To step back a little first, the ability to view Flash content through Safari or any other 3rd-party browser on the iPhone has never been possible until now. This all goes back to Apple’s decision to intentionally disallow Flash content based on a number of reasons including the technology’s status as a “closed system” and its less-than-stellar history of poor reliability and security, among others. Steve Jobs detailed these reasons in an open letter earlier this year. Skyfire has circumvented this restriction by processing Flash video on its own servers and then streaming the video in the acceptable HTML5 format to the iPhone through its app.
When you first open Skyfire, you’re greeted with a few instruction screens to help you navigate the app’s settings and functions.
One of these instruction screens reveals a feature that will undoubtedly be useful – once you’ve copied a URL from another app, Skyfire will immediately ask you if you want to navigate to that URL when you open it.
After this, you’re free to browse to your heart’s content. We tried a few sites without any known Flash content and Skyfire let us browse them easily with the same multi-touch gestures to zoom in and out of content that we’re used to everywhere else on the iPhone.
Overall, Skyfire feels very Safari-like with its address and search bar locations as well as the way it handles multiple browser pages (limited to up to 8 pages at once). The app can store bookmarks (but won’t import any from Safari or any other app) and also offers a mobile/desktop browser toggle so you can switch easily on sites that offer both mobile and desktop versions.
The app’s settings offer more customization with the ability to control cookie acceptance, toggle a Safe Search feature to omit explicit content from search results and more.
By far our favorite setting is the ability to set a custom start page to load every time a new page is opened, allowing you to essentially set a “home” page like you can on a desktop browser, which is not possible in Safari on the iPhone.
A Private Browsing toggle is also available – with this set to on, the app won’t capture any of your browsing in its History function or store this data anywhere else.
We navigated to a few sites with Flash content like Vimeo and HBO.com and found that Skyfire wouldn’t work with them. At Vimeo.com, we saw a notice describing that the site doesn’t offer content for mobile browsers. At HBO.com, we couldn’t even get past the “You need Adobe Flash Player” message in Skyfire and tapping on the view video button in the Skyfire toolbar showed us a message that it could not play this content and we were offered the option to report it to Skyfire. This happened on a few other sites as well.
We finally took a cue from Skyfire’s own iPhone app product page where a screenshot showed the app in action at the South Park Studios site, so we headed there to see how the app worked. After a momentary delay, the view video button changed from an hourglass to its film frame version indicating it was ready to display video. Tapping on it revealed a thumbnail window with a play button. Tapping on this brought up a Loading Video message and it started playing after a short delay.
Video playback was fairly smooth and we saw only one pause of a few seconds where we had to wait for streaming to continue within a 15-minute period of watching an episode of South Park with our iPhone connected to a fairly speedy Wi-Fi network. Performance while on AT&T’s 3G network was a little worse with some choppiness in audio and video and a few pauses in the streaming. Expect Skyfire’s performance to vary depending on the type and speed of your network connection.
The Skyfire app’s description states that it’s compatible with over 100,000 sites with more added regularly. That may sound like a lot but there are a millions of websites and it’s likely that you’ll come across sites that won’t work with Skyfire like we did.
Skyfire also includes a few other features. The button made up of two wavy lines automatically finds related content using search terms generated by an analysis of the current page. The search results will show other related videos, websites, tweets, and images found that match the search terms.
Skyfire also has a Facebook Quickview feature that allows you to quickly view your Facebook feed without needing to exit the app. When it comes to sharing, the URL of the current active page can be shared via email, Twitter, or Facebook.
Though Skyfire won’t work with every site with Flash content you’re bound to encounter, we’re happy to see that there’s a way to get closer to the infamous “full internet” experience on the iPhone now (and we wish that Skyfire had released this app in universal format so we could get some Flash goodness optimized for the gloriously large screen of our iPads). Skyfire mostly does what it promises and if you don’t have expectations that Skyfire will do away with every Flash content error cube you see in your web browsing forays, $2.99 isn’t a bad price to pay to get a little Flash love on your iPhone. In its description, it’s noted that the current $2.99 price is a “special early adopter price” and we haven’t heard what Skyfire’s full price will be later so we recommend you snag it now if this app sounds like it could be useful to you.