Following the almost-too-successful launch of its iPhone browser (demand was so high that sales had to be halted and resumed in waves), Skyfire has announced that it will be ending support for the 1.x version of its products, currently available for free on both the Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms. Normally the cessation of developer support does not spell death for a product, but in the case of Skyfire, the company will be shutting down the servers which enable proxy browsing on 1.x clients — essentially the magic ingredient that once made the browser so unique.
As of December 31st, when the proxy servers go permanently cold, Skyfire will have completed the transition of its business model to one of regular, standards-compliant browser development. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen on the 2.x versions available for Android and the iPhone, this new browser is much less feature-filled than the old one.
Specifically, instead of delivering the full content of almost any website — including in-page Flash and Silverlight video, a godsend for WinMo and Symbian users — Skyfire now displays the same content as other media-poor browsers, and not as well. The only connection to the Skyfire of old is the promise of Flash video support, which as we saw in our unimpressive demo, is performed through a separate client that only works sporadically.
The worst part of this debacle is how Skyfire essentially strung along 1.x users for months after the service’s video performance severely deteriorated earlier this year, repeatedly promising a fix on its support forum that will apparently never come. Skyfire had great potential when it was first released, but the company has taken enough wrong turns to make us doubt its ability to stay afloat (despite the millions it’s raking in from iPhone sales).
After 12/31, Windows Mobile users will be able to console themselves somewhat with the beta Uzard browser — which does Flash too, but also in a separate window — but it’s not clear what recourse Symbian owners will have for multimedia-rich browsing. Do any readers have some suggestions for survival in a post-Skyfire world?
Update: Two quick notes we should mention. First, Skyfire concurrently announced that the iPhone app is now expected to remain in the app store uninterrupted.
Second, the company did apparently consider saving the 1.x version through a paid model. According to CEO Jeff Glueck, “We experimented with ways to charge for the product (in certain international test markets) so that existing Windows Mobile and Symbian users could continue to use the service, but the payment mechanisms were very cumbersome and the piracy rates were so high on those OS platforms that we could not make it work.” He went on to state that “Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 and Nokia’s MeeGo platform are both shaping up as platforms with a lot of potential and the recent launch of the new BlackBerry OS 6 with a WebKit browser core makes for interesting potential for a future release of Skyfire 2.0.”