- Watch Flash videos
- Integrates with Twitter and Facebook
- Inconsistent performance
- Doesn't support all Flash sites
The SkyFire Web Browser (US$2.99) bills itself as the first iPhone browser that can play Flash videos. The app is so popular that it "sold out" within hours of its launch because the developer's servers couldn't keep up. I gave it a whirl to see if all the buzz is warranted.
Related: Top Flash-Enabled iPhone Browsers
How does an app sell out?
SkyFire's developers tried to put a positive spin on the fact that they pulled the app after just five hours, saying the app "sold out" and would be available in limited batches going forward. I guess "sold out" sounds better than simply saying "our servers couldn't keep up with the demand." The SkyFire browser app is back in App Store -- for now. The developers have increased their bandwidth capacity, but they warn that the app will be sold in batches to ensure current users don’t experience any performance issues.
The first time you launch SkyFire, the app runs through a short tutorial. When you get to a web page that contains a Flash video, a small icon pops up. Press play and the app will start optimizing and loading the video in a new screen. Behind the scenes, the SkyFire app is transcoding the Flash video to HTML5, so you can’t play the video until that process is complete and the video icon pops up from the bottom toolbar. It's this transcoding process that puts a strain on the developer's servers.
YouTube performance, Hulu a no-go
I started my SkyFire experience at YouTube, where I came away pretty impressed. Videos loaded pretty quickly, depending on their size, and played smoothly without any hiccups over a Wi-Fi connection. Not surprisingly, 3G speeds were slower, but not by much. "The Intruder Song," for example, loaded in about 10 seconds over Wi-Fi and 15 seconds over 3G. Even over 3G, playback was smooth, with no buffering pauses. The SkyFire browser app supports landscape mode, which makes it easier to actually see your video.
Things got a little dicey, however, once I pointed the browser to a site other than YouTube. A Lil Wayne video on MTV.com was unwatchable -- it was pixelated and had no volume. An SNL Digital Short at NBC.com never loaded. HBO.com said the browser I was using was not recommended.
Even when SkyFire is working properly, not all sites are supported. Some YouTube videos won’t work with the app, and Hulu.com is completely off-limits. Flash-based games are also out of the question.
Aside from the video issue, SkyFire is a full-featured web browser. According to the company, the browser is built around the same core as Safari, so it should seem pretty familiar to any iPhone user. Even though SkyFire uses the Safari core, I found it to be slightly slower loading pages. There wasn't a huge difference -- just a few seconds here and there -- but the browsing experience just felt slower and less snappy.
The Bottom Line
I can’t rate the SkyFire Web Browser just yet. It seems that the app is still having some growing pains related to the overwhelming demand, as evidenced by the unplayable videos on MTV.com and other sites. This is quite a problem, especially considering how much hype has surrounded this app since its launch. I’ll reevaluate the SkyFire app in a few weeks to see if things have changed.
What You’ll Need