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Skyfire’s Flash End-Run Around App Store

The Skyfire (sorry, SkyFire) people have cut their final draft of their quasi-Flash-supporting web browser and may submit it to the App Store this week. The browser doesn’t play Flash in the pure technical sense, though most people when using it wouldn’t know the difference. It wouldn’t actually install a Flash player on the iPhone though it would enable users of the software on the iPhone, as it already does on WinMo, Android and Nokia, to visit Flash-heavy sites with less of a feeling of of emptiness.

Let me break it down for you, how this thing works: When you fire up a website that has Flash, it doesn’t directly connect to the website to grab the data as a normal browser would; rather it submits the URL request to servers maintained by the Skyfire folks which then, like a proxy server (and this is what Opera Mini does minus the Flash), fetches the page and data connected to it and if it has any Flash on it it will convert the SWF, which for now at least has got to be simple SWFs of animation or video but nothing too crazy, into something the iPhone can play natively – as it does on a small handful of other platforms. As far as the iPhone is concerned, there is no Flash involved. In other words, when you bang in a URL or hit a link, it says Hey Skyfire people, let me see that website; then the Skyfire people say Okay hold on a minute while we grab and repackage it for you because it’s got some weird stuff on it your phone can’t handle – voila, here’s your website including what kind of looks like real Flash even though you’re not running Android 2.2.

But Steve Jobs detests Flash. It’s personal for him. He hates Flash as if Flash killed his dog. And this thing is basically doing an end-run around Apple’s no-Flash stance and not only is it doing that but given that the browser not only relays data through another server but that server transcodes the data into HTML5, there may be generation loss and the Flash experience may not be too flattering to the iPhone as a similar Flash experience would be on a phone which supports Flash itself and doesn’t need such translation.

So you’ve got a wildly cantankerous and stubborn CEO who writes manifestos trashing Adobe and Flash, you’ve got Adobe people also expressing their emotions emotionally, you’ve got a lot of people out there who’d really like to be able to visit Flash sites on their iPhone, you’ve got a company that’s angling to leverage the web into adopting HTML5, you’ve got another company who’s claiming to have done everything by the App Store book in order to essentially give people a Flash experience on the iPhone and possibly the iPad and you’ve got a lot of people like me rubbernecking the situation. That’s some good controversy right there. And all of those things feed each other to brew up both more controversy and more interest in the software.

If Skyfire managed not to break any of the rules it may come down to Apple being able to come up with a good enough excuse to reject it anyway. I know from experience that you don’t need to break any particular rule to get rejected when I was expelled from high school in ‘98 for running a porn site (don’t tell anyone please). Not just any old porn site though, it had a real time feed of the Dow and NASDAQ on it. But the school had nothing in its rulebook about such behavior or anything technological for that matter and I thought I was in the clear when making the site, which may have been the fuel behind my making the site in the first place, but they canned me anyway calling it “improper judgment” and came up with a more explicit rule for the subsequent year’s rulebook. The irony of that situation was that I was a member of that very disciplinary committee (not to mention a tri-varsity athlete). Point being, you can be punished, sometimes, for breaking rules that don’t exist.

So folks, break out some popcorn and place your bets on whether this sucker will either secure Apple’s stamp of approval or get canned like me.

Doug Simmons