Skyfire, the mobile web browser that allows users to experience the web as they would on a PC, has secured $13 Million in Series B Funding. The application has a waiting list that amounts to the publicity Gmail received with its invite system. Here's a closer look at a next generation web browser that users should look forward to.
The new funding round takes Skyfire's total raise to date up to $17.8m. Currently in private beta for Windows Mobile, Skyfire will use the funding to expand their browser to even more people on more platforms. The funding was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, and included previous investors Matrix Partners and Trinity Ventures. The funds will be used towards further rollout and distribution of the mobile browser and will add Jake Seid, Managing Director of Lightspeed, to its Board of Directors.
A Hands-on Look at Skyfire
Skyfire offers users a web experience akin to a PC with fast speeds and support for web technologies that most mobile handsets lacks. With Skyfire you can visit sites such as ReadWriteWeb, Youtube, Last.fm, CNN, and more just like you would on your PC. Skyfire loaded every website I threw at it without a hitch. I was even able to read my feeds in Google Reader and use features such as sharing an item and staring an item just like I would on my PC.
Navigating Skyfire is easy and intuitive. The homepage features three tabs that puts everything you need at your fingertips such as featured sites and sections, bookmarks, search, and your browsing history. The integrated search bar provides results from Yahoo and Google with links to view images, videos, and maps of your search results. Best of all, switching between each search engine was quick. All of these features were easy to use.
The zoom feature was a breath of fresh air from Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE). When you first head to a site, you'll see a full view of the with the option to zoom in with your keypad. A small cursor box will appear as you move the keypad around. Once you've selected a spot to zoom in on, Skyfire immediately renders a better view of your selection. From this view, you can interact with the page by selecting links, playing videos and more. When moving the mouse to scroll around the page, Skyfire automatically optimizes the other portions of the site for maximum viewing experience. Zooming out to fullview was as simple as pressing my keypad down again.
Audio and Video
Audio and video streams worked flawlessly on the browser. After testing the application against Youtube, I tried a bigger service: Hulu (Hulu coverage). Video playback was a little choppy which was expected. However, the performance far surpassed my expectations of the browser possibly choking and crashing.
Skyfire Supported Technologies
One Big Problem
One problem that many users may be concerned with is how Skyfire renders web pages to effectively deliver them to your handset for the best browsing experience. Its proprietary technology is server assisted and moves the heavy work to a server to keep the client's performance high. Essentially, this amounts to your data being stored in the hands of Skyfire. While I've had nothing short of a great experience with Skyfire, I recommend you choose carefully what sites and data you enter into the browser.
What Skyfire Lacks
The biggest drawback I experienced with Skyfire was its limited customization options. There's no way to change what's listed in the 'Featured' tab. We'd appreciate a way to add a list of a user's most visited sites instead of always heading to our bookmarks to grab them. For bookmarks, PIE allows for users to categorize their favorite sites into folders.Skyfire doesn't support this option.
When comparing Skyfire to Opera Mobile there were four things that I could not do with Skyfire:
- Save images
- Copy Text
- Forward A Link
- Import Bookmarks from PIE
While the first three may not be necessary for some, importing bookmarks from PIE should be a top priority for Skyfire.
With the new funding round, Skyfire should now be able to open up its beta a little more. Users that signed up before March 1st can look forward to an invite very soon. If you registered after March 1st you'll have to wait until later this summer. Future plans for the mobile browser also include launching on the Symbian S60 mobile platform. Blackberry and Palm support are not in their immediate future plans. As for the iPhone, they're waiting on a call from Steve. Welcome to the waiting list on that one.