Skyfire: Flash Video Comes to the iPhone

Have you been waiting for your iPhone to support Flash videos? Today we’re going to look at Skyfire, a new browser that lets you play Flash videos on your iOS device.

Ever since the iPhone was released in 2007, users have been clamoring for Flash support. Although Flash is still not supported in iOS, the situation is much better today since many sites are including h.264 HTML5 compatible video on their mobile sites. Still, there are many sites with videos you just can’t watch on your iPhone.


That’s where Skyfire comes in. Skyfire is a browser that brought Flash support to Windows Mobile a couple years ago, and now has been reborn as an iOS and Android App. Skyfire for iOS uses your device’s native HTML rendering, but then detects Flash content, renders and compresses it on their servers, and then streams it to your device. It only supports Flash video though, so you still won’t be able to use sites that are fully powered by Flash, such as Adobe’s Acrobat.com webapps. The company plans to add support for Windows Media and Quicktime content in the future, but for now, any Flash powered video should work fine in Skyfire. Let’s see if it lives up to its promises and makes it enjoyable to use any site, whether or not it’s Flash powered.

Getting a Flash Ready Browser on Your iPhone

When you go to purchase Skyfire from the App Store, you may be surprised to see it has a mature rating. While Safari comes preloaded on every iOS device, alternate browsers in the App Store such as Opera Mini and Skyfire are rated 17+ for containing mature content. Skyfire’s nothing more than an advanced browser, though, so you don’t need to be worried about your children using it any more than another browser.

Once you’ve got it purchased and installed, you’ll be ready to browse your favorite sites with Flash video. You’ll be presented with a quick and graphical guide to Skyfire’s features, so tap through it first.

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Skyfire is rated 17+, presumably because the internet isn't all child friendly

Skyfire will then open the default homepage which includes links to sites with Flash videos you can try out. We found the default homepage annoying, so if you’d like to turn it off, just press the gear icon at the top of the app. This will give you some quick settings, and you can turn on mobile view or enable private browsing here. Or, press Browser Settings to tweak more Skyfire settings.

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Change settings quickly from the gear button

There’s a number of settings you can change, but if you’re trying to get the home page change, press the Start Page button. You can select from the Skyfire default page, about:blank, or your own favorite site.

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Take control of your Skyfire homepage

Browsing the web in Skyfire works like you would expect. The address and search boxes are setup much like they are in Safari. By default, Skyfire will open the desktop version of sites rather than their mobile optimized versions. This can be helpful if sites hide their Flash content in the mobile versions, but it can make some sites harder to navigate. Skyfire seemed to have a hard time zooming in on text correctly, and we often had to zoom out to make sites readable.

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Sites render great, but can sometimes zoom in too close

When you visit a site that contains Flash videos, you’ll see a small popup on the bottom of the app with a preview of the video. Tap the image, and Skyfire will start caching the video so it can playback on your iPhone. Note that not all Flash videos will work; Hulu directly blocks mobile devices, and other videos may not render correctly on Skyfire’s servers. However, in our tests, most normal videos play fine, even those from major networks.

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You'll always know when Flash videos are avilable on a site

After a few moments, your video will start playing. Playback works much like it does in the YouTube or other video apps, though we were not able to skip forward in a video in our tests. Skyfire compresses videos before sending them to your device, so they load reasonably fast even on slow connections. This may cause some artifacting in videos and is more noticeable in full-screen mode.

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Streaming videos look nice, but you may notice some artifacting in full screen mode

Other Skyfire Features

In addition to playing Flash video, Skyfire has several other features that make it a nice browser. If you’ve copied a link to your clipboard before opening Skyfire, it’ll prompt you to open that site when you launch the app. Then, Skyfire handles multiple pages very much like Safari, but with the addition of a nice curve effect.

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Opening links from your clipboard is a breeze

Skyfire makes it easy to share content you find online as well. Simply press the Plus button in the bottom toolbar to save a bookmark or share a link via Twitter, Facebook, or email. Twitter opens in a popover in Skyfire, making it easy to share your link and then return to your content in one tap.

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Share the sites you find with your favorite networks

It also includes a StumbleUpon type service that will recommend related content to the page you’re currently visiting. Press the wave button and select from one of the suggested topics. This will open a new page with recommended media about the topic you’re researching.

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Want to learn more? Skyfire's here to help.

Pros and Cons

Skyfire actually has a lot to love. The Flash video support, while not perfect, is still quite nice. It’s surprising how many videos you get used to skipping without Flash support, so once you have it you may find you watch more videos on your iOS device. We appreciated the ability to view sites in desktop mode, and this is especially useful when sites don’t offer a way to opt out of their mobile site but you want to access the full version. The extra features are nice as well, but we wish Skyfire included more to make it a better browser than Safari, such as a way to see a list of your previous pages from the back button.

We did encounter some problems as well. Skyfire’s scrolling isn’t as smooth as Safari. We experienced lags several times while panning through sites with numerous images, while Safari handled the same sites fine. Scrolling back to the top of a page isn’t as easy either; you have to hit the small bit of the address bar that sticks out, not just anywhere in the header of the app as most apps work.

Conclusion

If you’ve been frustrated with your iPhone lack of Flash support, Skyfire relieves much of the pain by bringing near full Flash video support to your device. This app shows a lot of promise for bringing a fuller internet experience to iOS, but is still a bit rough around the edges. There’s still plenty of room for improvements, so we’ll be excited to see how Skyfire progresses with future updates. Even as it is, though, it’s a fun way to see more of the Internet than you could before on an iPhone.


Summary

Skyfire brings more of the internet to your iPhone with full Flash video support. See more than you ever thought possible on your iOS device with desktop browsing and Flash playback.

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