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Summary:

The New York Times, earlier this week pointed out that browser wars had erupted again with Mozilla Corp’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari looking to one-up each other. While that certainly is true, the browser wars on the desktop are not as interesting as […]

The New York Times, earlier this week pointed out that browser wars had erupted again with Mozilla Corp’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari looking to one-up each other. While that certainly is true, the browser wars on the desktop are not as interesting as the sudden explosion of interest in the browsers on mobile devices. With billions of devices sold every year there is a big demand for mobile browsers. The market is an emergent one, with no real winners.

WebKit-based browsers on S60 and Apple’s iPhone are strong contenders. In addition, Mozilla is looking to develop mobile browser for phones that are based on Linux OS, as CEO John Lilly said in a chat with us earlier this month. They are all fighting it out with Opera of Norway. I have Opera Mini on my Blackberry Curve and I love it.

However, all these players should watch out for Skyfire, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that went into private beta earlier this year. The company is about to announce that it has raised $13 million in Series B funding from Lightspeed Ventures previously investors, Trinity Ventures and Matrix Partners. The company has raised $17.8 million thus far.

What makes Skyfire so special? It has a mobile browser that can render regular web pages almost perfectly like the way you expect to see them on your desktop. Only Apple’s iPhone version of Safari has that kind of ability. However, Skyfire’s server centric approach allows it to render Flash-based content such as YouTube videos on mobile devices. That makes this browser really useful. While Skyfire works only on Windows Mobile platform, the company is hard at work on a Symbian version. I have seen an early stage demo and it works very well. When I saw this browser for the first time, my initial reaction was: Microsoft should buy this company and replace their lousy Mobile IE with this much nicer product. It would instantly make HTC devices usable.

On a more macro level, everyone in the mobile ecosystem – from handset makers to mobile carriers – is interested in a mobile browser, that can render web pages for view on the handset without writing special versions of the web content. Apple’s iPhone showed that a good browser (married to easy to use experience) can raise demand for data services. With Voice-related revenues peaking, mobile carriers are increasingly banking on demand for mobile data services to make money, as we have noted previously. According to UBS Research analysis, wireless data services “now account for 21% of total service revenues for the major carriers, up from 16% a year ago.”

In a recent report, mobile market research firm, M:Metrics pointed out that among smartphone users in the United States, mobile browsing has increased 89% year over year, and pageviews have increased 127 percent. More importantly, the time people are spending on non iPhone mobile phones based web browsers is increasing as well. Mobile advertising start-up, AdMob had come to similar conclusions when it analyzed the data it collected from its ad-network.

Against such a backdrop, it is not difficult to see why VCs want to take a flyer on a company like Skyfire. Sure it has its risks including fighting with deep pocketed incumbents, but the upside is big as well. As I said, it is early days in the mobile browser wars.

  1. I installed Skyfire on my HTC Kaiser (ATT Tilt) a couple of weeks ago and while it’s still a beta browser (slow page load speeds, LONG startup time, etc…) it is so much better than any other mobile browser (save safari on the iPhone) that I now use it daily.

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  2. “Why everybody is developing their Location Aware Applications? If I have to install 10 softwares on my mobile, I am sure all of them will be reading my GPS info constantly from mobile and sending to their respective servers. First of all, it is sheer wastage of processing power of my tiny mobile and also the bandwidth (because applications may use their own protocol to transmit Location Coordinate) . It can be easily done if HTTP request has this parameter for Location Coordinate.”

    http://saurabhkaushik.wordpress.com/2008/03/31/location-based-browser/

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  3. In my earlier comment, I am advocating a browser with location awareness. It is desired feature from all the application developer.

    PS: Apologize for two comments …

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  4. [...] Mobile web browser Skyfire thinks it can do better than the Apple iPhone version of Safari. Investors think so too; they just handed the company another $13 million. [...]

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  5. [...] when Techmeme referenced a GigaOM article that Skyfire had recieved $13 million in venture funding, I was really happy for the little [...]

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  6. Personally, I love skyfire. I think it’s the best browser going for Windows Mobile, and I just might be sad to see it go when I switch over to an iPhone come June. Though something tells me that they might just develop a version for iphone as well. Time will tell.

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  7. I want to try this application on my Symbian N82 .. I guess nothing can beat the speed of the iPhone in terms of rendering the content. Its a Native App :)

    But ability to play flash is amazing

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  8. [...] (www.skyfire.com) Browser gets US$13m to fight mobile browser war… they only run on high-end windows mobile devices. They use an open-source HTML engine [...]

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  9. “It has a mobile browser that can render regular web pages almost perfectly like the way you expect to see them on your desktop. Only Apple’s iPhone version of Safari has that kind of ability.”

    You are kidding, right?

    Not only has Nokia been doing this for ages, but even the lame-ass browser Netfront does it these days.

    “Microsoft should buy this company and replace their lousy Mobile IE with this much nicer product.”

    Yeah, but do their servers scale? All data goes through Skyfire’s servers, remember.

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  10. So, where can I get Skyfire?

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