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SkyFire flees iTunes store

Angry Bird-buster just too darn successful

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Pre-processing mobile browser SkyFire has been pulled from the iTunes app store after only five hours of offering access to streamed video content, because it's just too popular to cope.

SkyFire routes traffic through its own servers, modifying the content to suit the mobile device on which it's being run - on the iPhone that means converting Flash video streams into HTML-5-compliant streams using a codec suited to Apple's platform. But it seems converting all that content was too much for SkyFire, which has pulled the browser from the iTunes store while it tries to source some more server capacity.

The company is putting a brave face on the problem, claiming that the application (which is really a wrapper around the iPhone's existing browser, Safari) has sold out and thanks to "incredible demand". It certainly shifted a lot of copies despite costing $2.99 - outranking Angry Birds as top grossing application in the five hours it was live on the store.

Server-side pre-processing is all the rage these days, despite the fact that it turns a customer into an ongoing cost centre - SkyFire gets its 70 per cent of the $2.99 iTunes price, but has to run the servers indefinitely, and once they start recoding video in real time that's a lot of server to keep operational.

Opera's Turbo mode works the same way, with the intention of generating revenue by injecting targeted advertisements into web pages (just like Phorm, only without the controversy) to allow free distribution.

Bitstream's Bolt browser also uses server-side recoding, and is free, but Bitstream's revenue stream remains a mystery.

SkyFire is free on most platforms (labelled "beta"), but clearly made a lot of money selling to iPhone users. The risk is that it will have to keep selling more copies to pay for the maintenance of the existing ones, like a vast unsustainable pyramid scheme, or risk upsetting the paying users with some sort of embedded advertising like everyone else. ®

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