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Summary:

SkyFire is joining the WebKit bandwagon with the acquisition of kolbysoft, which makes the Android Steel browser. The company may be able to build a better mousetrap, but convincing Android users to download an additional browser will be a tough sell.

The mobile browser startup Skyfire is joining the increasingly crowded WebKit bandwagon by buying kolbysoft, maker of Steel, a WebKit-based Android  browser that appears to have cultivated a tiny but dedicated base of fans who’ve downloaded the app from Android Market. Like the popular Opera Mini browser, Skyfire, which currently supports Windows Mobile and Nokia S60 devices, uses a server to deliver fully rendered web pages. The company hopes to combine WebKit’s ability to “mobilize” basic Internet content with its own cloud-based rendering technology.

“I think, generally and philosophically, WebKit as a movement is doing a really nice job of solving basic HTML-type browsing,” Skyfire CEO Jeff Glueck told me yesterday. “What it isn’t doing well is solving the problem of all the rich media on the Internet that’s in these very fat files — bandwidth-hogging files and proprietary plug-ins like Flash and Quicktime and Silverlight.”

As Om noted in 2008, Skyfire’s cloud-based technology impressively renders web content for mobile consumption and — unlike most mobile browsers — allows it to deliver Flash-based content and other rich media. The company currently relies on ad revenues but carriers are “potential customers,” Glueck said.

It’s difficult to gauge just how much traction Skyfire has gained since its launch in late 2008, but recent figures from StatCounter indicate traffic from its browser fails to match even Sony PSP usage. That’s largely due to the fact that the presence of Nokia’s Symbian on the mobile web is waning in Western markets and Windows Mobile traffic borders on nonexistent as Android’s Internet footprint expands — facts that surely helped drive Skyfire’s move toward Google’s platform. Indeed, WebKit technology drives the vast majority of traffic on the mobile web in operating systems such as iPhone and Palm’s webOS; RIM is developing a WebKit browser for the BlackBerry.

Of course, Android has a pretty impressive WebKit browser of its own, so Skyfire will face a challenge in convincing uses to download and use a replacement — as Glueck concedes. “Our most essential competition right now is the default browser on the phone,” he said. “So we have to be better than what comes in the box.”

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In-post mage courtesy Flickr user benmarvin; thumbnail image of RafeB

  1. “That’s largely due to the fact that the presence of Nokia’s Symbian on the mobile web is waning in Western markets and Windows Mobile traffic borders on nonexistent”

    You do not have much credibility. Do not believe those AdMob (Google) figures. Skyfire did not have working browser to new FP 3 and FP 5 touch Symbian phones until few months ago (touch devises 25 milj. sold)

    http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/news/item/11007_Skyfire_launch_v15_of_their_br.php

    Some browser stat…
    http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_browser-ww-monthly-200808-200909

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  2. I like Steel and use it side-by-side-by-side on all my Android phones along with Opera and the default Webkit browser. But in all honesty, I still prefer websites that automatically shift me to a mobile version of the site while still keeping me on the same page.

    Most newspapers fail here — they have mobile sites, but they shift me to the homepage. I tend to avoid those sites entirely (even on my PC browser). Many WordPress blogs are doing this well (Cyanogen’s Mod site comes to mind) and I visit those more often than any other site.

    While a browser that displays regular non-mobile sites well on my mobile device is fantastic, I still prefer sites that limit their garbage for mobile users.

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