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iPhone app plays flash video, but does it matter?

Skyfire, which came out Wednesday, quickly "sold out," according to the developer's press release.
Skyfire, which came out Wednesday, quickly "sold out," according to the developer's press release.
  • Despite widespread excitement, it turns out that Skyfire isn't very useful
  • The app's primary function is to transcode that video so it's viewable on Apple products
  • Some Flash-dependent sites that work well on Skyfire, are "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report"

(Wired) -- Maybe Apple approved Skyfire, an iPhone web browser that plays Flash videos, to prove a point: Flash is losing relevance.

Despite widespread excitement over the first app to work with Adobe's plug-in, it turns out that Skyfire isn't very useful.

My hands-on time with the app, which came out Wednesday (and quickly "sold out," according to the developer's press release), was an eye-opening experience. The app's primary function is to take websites that use embedded Flash video and automatically transcode that video into HTML5 so that it's viewable on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

CNNMoney: iPhone Flash app pulled from Apple

To test it, I had to find a popular website loaded with Flash video. The search was difficult.

I looked at several video-heavy websites, only to realize they were already HTML5-ready. Examples include The Onion, DailyMotion, ESPN, CollegeHumor and CNET. The biggest video websites -- YouTube and Vimeo -- have moved to HTML5, too.

I also found a report showing 54 percent of web video is now HTML5 compatible.

(Note that Skyfire only displays Flash video -- not games, animations, ads, etc.)

Eventually a Twitter follower pointed me to a website where Skyfire really came in handy: CWTV. When Skyfire detected I was trying to play a Flash video, a play button popped up at the bottom of the browser, and the app did its job: Within 5 seconds I was streaming an episode of "Smallville." (Hurray, I guess.)

There are some other Flash-dependent websites that work well on Skyfire, like the "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report."

But the browser didn't play all Flash videos. I loaded the TED Talks website, which is a gallery of Flash videos, and Skyfire didn't transcode the videos. I tried playing a Flash video on, and Skyfire didn't transcode it, either. But it doesn't matter so much in those cases, because there are already iOS apps for both TED Talks and CNN, which are capable of playing their videos.

Another major exception is Hulu, whose videos are encoded in Flash. But it's not Skyfire's fault that you can't view Hulu videos. Because of licensing terms, the company doesn't allow mobile devices to stream Hulu videos for free, as you could with a computer by visiting

Instead, the company wants you to pay a monthly subscription fee through the Hulu iOS app. If you try visiting through Skyfire, you get a message saying it's not supported.

Frankly I had a tough time finding reasons to use Skyfire. My hands-on testing of the app made me feel that Flash doesn't matter anymore (not nearly as much as it used to before the iPad hit stores in April).

But Skyfire was a hot seller when it launched Wednesday -- so hot that the developers pulled it from the store because of traffic overload, then labeled it "sold out."

All this leads me to conclude that the underlying reason is the one big chunk of the web that's still not available on the iPhone or iPad: free porn. Indeed, many porn-streaming websites still rely on Flash.

That makes me believe that the tipping point for Flash to become irrelevant is when the most-popular porn sites shift to HTML5. My "research" tells me that day isn't far away.

In the meantime, Skyfire may have only limited utility for most of the web, but it makes a fine porn browser.

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Copyright 2011


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