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Flash Flood Swamps Skyfire

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 5, 2010 9:34 AM PT

On Wednesday, Skyfire began selling in the App Store what it described as the first mobile browser that could deliver Flash video to an iPhone and an iPod touch.

Flash Flood Swamps Skyfire

Five hours later, it pulled the browser because huge demand had overwhelmed its servers, Robert Oberhofer, senior director of product management, said in a blog post.

Until the company could increase its server capacity, Skyfire would not be making any new sales, he said. As of Friday morning, the browser was still not available in the App Store.

Skyfire 2.0 for the iPhone and iPod touch is a full-fledged Web browser based on the same WebKit core used by Safari, according to the company.

It lets users view videos designed for Flash Player by translating the videos and bringing them to the native iPhone media player using the H.264 video codec. Before it "sold out," it was available for US$2.99 in the Apple App Store.

Skyfire did not return MacNewsWorld's call by press time.

Ordinary People Want Flash

The immediate conclusion one can draw from this is that Flash is still very popular, despite Apple's campaign to replace it with HTML5. Within the five hours it was available in the App Store, Skyfire for iPhone became the top-grossing app, the third-highest paid app overall, and the top application in the Utilities category, as Oberhofer pointed out in his post.

"Of course, there is pent-up demand for this," Laura Didio, principal of ITIC, told MacNewsWorld. "If you talk to rank-and-file mainstream consumers who don't know the history between Apple and Adobe and could care less, they wonder why they don't have Flash on Apple products." It would have been surprising, she said, if the servers hadn't crashed.

Despite the demand for Flash, it's unlikely that Apple will pull back from its position on Adobe, as "these two companies are at war," said DiDio.

Indeed, some reviewers suggested that in a Machiavellian twist, Apple might have approved the app just to watch it crash and thus make people think Flash is unreliable, she noted.

That's a far-fetched scenario, said DiDio, but it's easy to see why some people might believe it, given the animosity between the two companies.

The irony is that Skyfire's mobile browser is not the perfect vehicle to display Flash, she pointed out, noting that "it doesn't work for game animation or ads, which limits its usefulness."

Complex Process

That's because the conversion process from Flash to HTML5 involves several steps, Rob Walch, host of Today in iPhone, told MacNewsWorld.

"A user has to navigate to a website where Flash video is detected. It is then downloaded to Skyfire's servers where it is converted to HTML5," he explained. "Then it gives the user a button to play the video. Everyone thinks they are running Flash on the browser, but they are not."

Skyfire's servers may have crashed in part because of the heavy computing the app requires, Walch suggested. "There is a lot of processing and downloading to handle. Their servers can only handle so many users."

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