- Runs Flash and Java on iOS
- Flash is jerky, and audio/video doesn't stay in sync
- Browser isn't designed for iOS, so experience is rough
US$2.99 for app, plus
The iPhone and other iOS devices are famous for not running Java or Adobe Flash, two common web technologies used by many sites and web apps. And while Apple doesn't seem likely to add support for them, a third-party web browsing app called CloudBrowse has brought support for them to the platform. The question is, are the benefits outweighed by the drawbacks?
Related: Top Flash-Enabled iPhone Browsers
A Neat Solution, A Fast Browser
Rather than trying to add support for Flash and Java to the iOS itself, something Apple blocks, CloudBrowse instead pulls a neat trick to give users access to them: When you use the app, you're actually controlling a full desktop version of the Firefox web browser running on a server and being streamed to the app on your device. This means that, even though you're using the iOS, you get all the features and benefits of the full version of Firefox, including Java and Flash.
Streaming a web browser to your device might sound like a recipe for a very slow browsing experience, but surprisingly, it's not. CloudBrowse loads sites as fast, or even faster than Apple's Safari browser on the iOS in my tests.
Browser Speed: Safari vs. Cloud Browse
- Apple.com: 5 seconds vs. 2
- BoingBoing.net: 28 (with errors) vs. 7
- CNN.com: 6 vs. 3
- ESPN.com: 6 vs. 3
- iPod.About.com: 4 (mobile site) vs. 4 (full site)
- Apple.com: 3 vs. 2
- BoingBoing.net: 7 vs. 10
- CNN.com: 5 vs. 5
- ESPN.com: 6 vs. 4
- iPod.About.com: 2 (mobile site) vs. 2 (full site)
As you can see, in nearly every case, loading pages is faster in CloudBrowse, which is a pretty impressive achievement. Unfortunately, it many other ways, though, native iOS browsers offer a more pleasing experience.
The Benefits of a Native Browser
Because CloudBrowse is a desktop browser steamed to your iOS device, it doesn't have many of the iOS-specific interface touches that users wil have grown accustomed to. For instance, tapping in a text box doesn't automatically bring up a keyboard, double tapping the screen doesn't zoom, pages are not automatically formatted to fit the iPhone screen so they sometimes scroll to the right or left, and the overall interface of the browser looks like a desktop Windows browser, complete with the ugly typography. You'll miss the iOS' more-elegant handling of type.
Because it's a desktop browser, CloudBrowse also doesn't support some iOS features like being able to send video from a web browser to another device via AirPlay. It also doesn't always automatically reformat the web page when your rotate the device's orientation.
But Flash, you may be saying. What about Flash? As advertised, CloudBrowse does play it, but not as well as most users would like, I suspect. Flash plays back looking jerky, and the audio and get out of sync pretty quickly.
One major benefit of an iOS browser that supports Flash would be the ability to watch Hulu without paying to subscribe to the Hulu Plus app. Unfortunately, CloudBrowse can't accommodate because Hulu sees the browser as using an anonymous proxy and blocks access to its videos. This isn't really CloudBrowse's fault, but it removes one of the major benefits of having a way to use Flash on the iPhone.
I have a suspicion that CloudBrowse isn't really aimed at the average user as much as it's targeting the corporate user who needs to access Flash or Java apps. That's because, in addition to the US$2.99 purchase price of the app, CloudBrowse requires a $9.99/month subscription (on special at $5.99/month as I write this). Without the subscription, you can only use the browser for 10 minutes at a time and have to view ads. The subscription removes ads, gets you priority access to the servers running the browser, better quality video, and the ability to store your browsing history and preferences in your account.
Over $100/year seems a pretty high price for the average user, but it might make sense to corporations who don't want to go the app route to use their mission-critical software.
The Bottom Line
CloudBrowse is a smart idea that holds a lot of promise. Being able to bring technologies not supported normally to the iOS is valuable and could help some users access the sites and apps they need. But it's got too many shortcomings and rough edges--not to mention a sizable price tag--to merit a recommendation to anyone other than patient corporate users right now.
What You’ll Need