By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm
[UPDATE: Skyfire has been pulled from the App Store. Engadget says that Skyfire did the deed itself because demand for it was crushing its servers–and here’s the official word.]
Wanna watch Flash video on your iPhone? If you sit around waiting for Apple and Adobe to make nice isn’t worth the effort, you’re going to grow moss. But a partial solution is available today: Skyfire, a browser that can play some Flash-based video that’s not otherwise available on iOS devices. Apple has approved it, and it’s now on the App store for $2.99.
As with the Android version that came out last spring (before FlashPlayer itself shipped for Android), the iPhone edition of the browser scans Web pages for Flash-based video. In many–but not all–cases, it’ll pop up a thumbnail video icon, which means that it can play a version of the video converted into the iPhone’s H.264 format. Click on the icon, and Skyfire will buffer and play the video.
Skyfire isn’t a miracle cure for unplayable iOS video. The watching process isn’t exactly seamless: When I sampled video at Comedy Central, ESPN, PCWorld, and other sites, it took from a few second up to about ninety seconds before video started to play, and it was sometimes a bit jumpy before settling down. Some sites, such as Hulu and network ones, are blocking this browser, and others, it just doesn’t support. Just as important, major sites are doing an increasingly good job of supporting iOS devices natively–as I bopped around the Web looking for video to watch, I found that more than I expected was playable with Safari (no conversion process required) as well as Skyfire. Basically, its a little hard to know what you’ll get until you land on a page. But the browser does indeed let you watch some big-name stuff that’s otherwise unavailable, and therefore serves a purpose for now. (I assume the day will come when Flash-only video is as rare as RealPlayer-only video is today.)
Like the Android version of Skyfire, this one utilizes the WebKit rendering engine built into the operating system but layers its own set of features on top. It has a bunch of items that Safari lacks, including the ability to quickly switch between mobile and full versions of Web sites; sharing via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail; a private browsing mode; and a related-pages feature that wasn’t too useful when I tried it. If you find Safari skimpy on features, you might prefer this browser. (My go-to iPhone browser, however, remains Atomic Web Browser, the most desktop-like one I’ve found.)
I must confess that spend virtually no time moping about the lack of Flash on the iPhone. I am, however, a fan of browser choice and competition–so I consider the availability of Skyfire, Atomic Web Browser, Opera Mini, and others on the iPhone as good news. If you give it a try, let us know what you think.