Skyfire arrives for Symbian touchphones

The updated mobile browser provides a full-touch interface for Symbian's S60 fifth edition smartphones and promises a better UI for third edition handsets
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor

Skyfire has updated its free, cloud-based mobile browser and made it available for touchscreen smartphones based on Symbian Series 60 fifth edition.

The version 1.5 update, released on Wednesday, also promises user interface and performance improvements for Symbian S60 third edition devices. In addition, it provides higher quality text rendering similar to that already available on the Windows Mobile version of the browser.

Skyfire 1.5 for S60 fifth edition offers a full-touch interface that allows 'pan' and 'flick' gestures. "Things that kind of come for free in a modern [smartphone] OS — like kinetic scroll and smooth scrolling — we had to build from scratch," according to Skyfire chief executive Jeff Glueck. "But with an older OS, things like smoother and kinetic scrolling really add that new level of excitement."

Another feature for the fifth edition automatically rotates the browser screen and controls when the handset is turned to landscape or portrait view. In addition, the browser provides a full-screen mode to compensate for what Glueck called the "unique" resolution of Symbian devices.

"Real estate is precious [on small devices], so we have a way to go completely 'chromeless'," he said. The 'chrome' are the bars at the top or side of the screen, which display both the user's recent searches and popular ones by others.

These new features give the Symbian browser parity with the Windows Mobile version, which Glueck said is consistently in the top 10 downloads in the Windows Mobile Marketplace.

A BlackBerry version of the browser is still in beta. Glueck added that over the next few months, Skyfire might extend the browser to other platforms "where we see a lot of energy happening and that are more developer-friendly — where we're able to access excellent developer APIs, with a great functioning marketplace and devices really optimised for multimedia".

Glueck said the new features for Symbian have not increased the amount of memory needed to run the browser, which supports full Flash, Silverlight, Ajax and PDF on websites. It does this by running a system based on the Mozilla Gecko rendering engine in Skyfire's datacentres and sending the compressed page image over an encrypted connection to the phone. By comparison, supporting Flash 10.1 on a smartphone could require 50MB to 75MB of memory for complex sites, Glueck said.

Loading pages faster by compressing them will become increasingly important for users and mobile operators, as other smartphones replicate the popularity of the iPhone, according to Glueck.

"We have all these bandwidth constraints on 3G. The wireless network is starting to melt down [where] you're seeing dropped calls — and I think it's going to get worse," he said. "Imagine if we're having trouble now, that's just with one device; as more and more devices catch up, when all these ads and videos get opened, there will be all this content, and it's not optimised.

"Unoptimised Flash and unoptimised video will kill the networks that aren't already dead; 2010 may be the year of mobile warming."

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