On the same day that Steve Jobs declares
that Adobe's Flash is dead in the water, Skyfire launches a beta browser for Android that brings the technology to your smartphone.
Announced on the Skyfire Blog
yesterday, the Skyfire 2.0 browser - currently available from the Android Marketplace in beta form - uses a series of neat tricks to enable Flash content on Android-based devices ahead of the official support due in Android 2.2.
While Skyfire is an impressive Webkit-based browser in its own right - featuring multi-touch functionality, the ability to switch between rendering sites as an Android browser, an iPhone browser, and a desktop browser, and up to eight tabs - it's the new SkyBar technology that is particularly interesting.
SkyBar acts as a cloud offload engine, performing processor intensive graphics and video rescaling and conversion on Skyfire's remote servers rather than locally - something that both increases performance and battery life and also allows Android devices to play back content that would otherwise be unavailable.
While the SkyBar toolbar is currently only active for Flash video content - which is transcoded and scaled remotely and played back smoothly on your Android device - the company promises to introduce support for Microsoft's rival Silverlight format along with Windows Media and Quicktime video files in future releases.
Sadly, the SkyBar only
supports video content: interactive Flash content such as games won't work, with Skyfire's Jeff Glueck explaining that "we think there’s a quite healthy ecosystem of native games and applications on mobile, and the response times for a game that users expect don’t work well with the latency of cellular networks.
A quick test of the software on a Motorola Milestone running Android 2.0.1 reveals a smooth experience, although the user interface could do with some work: despite having support for the Milestone's multi-touch display and using the pinch-to-zoom gesture popularised by Apple's iPhone, a pair of zoom buttons make themselves known during scrolling or zooming operations. Despite this, it's a fast browser and responds well - and the ability to view the special Android-only versions of Google sites include Docs and Reader is a welcome bonus.
Skyfire 2.0 Beta is available from the Android Marketplace now in the UK, the US, and Canada - and, unlike Mozilla's recent Fennec pre-alpha
supports all Android devices running version 1.5 or above.
Does the thought of Flash video content on your Android device fill you with joy, or will Skyfire's efforts come to nought once Android 2.2 brings native Flash support - despite the promise of 70 percent reduction in data transferred as a result of the transcoding technology? Share your thoughts over in the forums