Ever since the iPhone came around, carriers have taken a back seat to Apple (s aapl) and Google (s goog) with their old portals and decks no longer central to the user experience. But Skyfire is trying to give them a chance to get in front of consumers again with a new mobile browser extension and toolbar called Skyfire Horizon, which is starting to roll out on select AT&T (s t) Android devices like the LG Escape.
Horizon is somewhat interesting from a technical standpoint since browser extensions are something we don’t see in mobile. And it provides some usefulness in the browsing experience. But the way it’s implemented can come off as bloatware.
Horizon will come pre-installed in the stock browser but can be turned off by users. It will sit along the bottom of the browser offering up third-party services, such as sharing buttons for Twitter and Facebook (s fb) and tools for calling up content from Amazon (s amzn), IMDb, Yelp (s yelp) and other services.
The toolbar is meant to be intelligent, so it can respond to what a user is viewing at that moment. For example, a person shopping on a site can a receive an alert from Blue Kangaroo about a relevant deal, offer or coupon about the brand they’re visiting. An extension from Quixey allows users to get recommendations on apps based on what they’re browsing at the moment. IMDb’s extension can tell you more information about a movie you’re reading about. Skyfire is trying to recruit more developers to build out extensions for Horizon.
Jeff Glueck, CEO of Skyfire said Horizon gives carriers a chance to engage consumers by giving them a great experience that is customizable and adds value. And he said that carrier can use the tool bar to advertise and message their users.
“We’re giving them the ability to add value and earn back some valuable beach front real estate,” he said.
That’s great for the carriers, but for consumers, I’m not sure they are going to see it as a plus. People aren’t clamoring for the old carrier portals and walled gardens of the carriers. They’re happy to pick and choose what apps they want and what websites they visit. I’m not saying that operators shouldn’t create apps, but pre-installing a tool bar in my browser comes off as a bid for relevance. And if it starts to get loaded up with ads, something AT&T has yet to do so far, it will be even more of a turnoff. We have enough ads in our browsing experience without inviting our carrier to pile on more.
I wish Horizon was somehow offered to users instead of being pushed on them. If it’s a great piece of software, consumers will embrace it. The browser is one of those great apps that reminds users of the power of their smartphone because it connects to the all the content on the web. I can see why carriers would want to be part of that experience but trying to take over a piece of real estate in my browser is more of a sad attempt to turn back the clock.