Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yet another mobile browser

On the Mobile Monday mailing list and various website, Skyfire this week advertised to grow their marketing staff.

Skyfire is the Mountain View startup that’s garnered $18m in VC to put yet another browser on cell phones — competing with WebKit (on iPhone, S60 and Windows Mobile) and of course the venerable Opera. Until the job ad, I’d never heard of the mobile browser software company, which is supporting WIndows Mobile and someday Symbian S60.

Skyfire is based on Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine. Its claim to fame is that it (unlike say the iPhone) delivers the full desktop browser experience — complete with Flash, QuickTime, Silverlight, AJAX and other goodies not available on the iPhone and other mobile phones — either because they conflict with platform strategies or because of a lack of horsepower in the mobile device. Providing these also gives full access to YouTube, Hulu and other media sites.

Skyfire not only has lots of features, but is also very fast. Of course, there’s a trick — they render the pages on Skyfire’s server and then push bits down to the device. The server-side tricks mean that you need to subscribe to a (presumably paid) service to get the benefits, providing a revenue stream in an era of commoditizing web browsers. Its pending patent could even protect this unique business model.

The problem is, server-side rendering seems to address a temporary (and closing) window of opportunity. As Clay Christensen observed, technology improves faster than customer needs, so low-end solutions display high-end soltuions.

If the Pentium II/Pentium 4 transition is any indication, today’s 300 MHz smartphone will sport a 2 GHz processor in 3-4 years. By then, some will also be multicore, well suited for rendering web content on one processor and doing the remaining computations on another.

No comments: