BlackBerry owners will be the first to admit the web browser is lagging behind those on other smartphone platforms. The browser is much better than it was in the past, but it pales when compared with other browsers. The Skyfire browser that has been in development on the BlackBerry platform was highly anticipated as it brings a near desktop browsing experience to the smartphone. The Skyfire CEO has dashed hopes of seeing it on the BlackBerry any time soon, as the company has stopped development to concentrate on the Android version of Skyfire.
The Skyfire browser is unique in that it renders all web pages on the company’s servers, making it possible to view web sites that other mobile browsers cannot handle. Skyfire users can even watch Hulu and other embedded video without missing a beat.
The BlackBerry version of the browser had been in development for a while, and even entered an alpha stage. This would indicate the effort was at a fairly advanced stage, so the recent statement by Skyfire CEO Jeff Glueck that development on the BlackBerry version was halting was unexpected.
The Blackberry developer environment is not as favorable for cutting-edge application development. The APIs are fragmented and inconsistent, and the Java virtual machine Blackberry requires is not efficient. While Blackberry users are desperate for a better browser – we know, and we hear them – we only want to bring out something that meets our high standards and is truly great.
On the surface it seems the company is throwing in the towel until a better development environment is released by RIM, which would be in the next version 6.0. I suspect the rapid growth of the Android platform is a bigger factor, especially given Gluecks’ statement:
We see Android as a fast-rising ecosystem, with a rich, totally open developer environment, a healthy app market and a healthy advertising and search ecosystem. The Android OS has a tremendous amount of interest from handset makers and carriers, and also has a strong need for making the explosion of video more network optimized (Skyfire’s wheelhouse).
Skyfire is a small company and the development team is not a big one, so it makes sense for it to focus on the hot area. It further demonstrates how much Android has grown in such a short time. No one can afford to ignore it.