Interview: Tracy DeMiroz, VP of Marketing at Skyfire

I spent a few minutes earlier this week chatting with Tracy DeMiroz, the VP of Marketing for Skyfire. Skyfire is a free mobile browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian, and the only browser of the bunch to support Flash, Silverlight, and a number of other technologies generally reserved for desktop browsers.

With Skyfire now open to the world and quickly approaching a 1.0 release, I figured it was time to sit down and ask them a few questions. While Tracy has to skirt around some of my inquiries, she was able to drop some hints about Skyfire’s business model, the future of Skyfire on other platforms, and when we might be able to expect version 1.0

Greg: So – What is Skyfire?

Tracy: Skyfire is a mobile browser that delivers the PC web on your phone real fast, and it’s a mobile browser that renders the PC web as it would on your desktop. That’s because, as you know, we support web technologies such as Flash and AJAX so you can consume videos, music, and all the things we are browsing on the web regularly.

Greg: Skyfire is a free browser – where are you making money?

Tracy: As we get ready to get towards 1.0 we’ll be announcing more details specific about that. There are definitely proven business models around browsers, around search. In regards to our differentiators, and what we’re able to do as a browser, we are seeing that we’re driving a lot of search. A lot of browsing begins with search, and it really plays to our strengths

Greg: What would Skyfire be doing with search as a business model?

Tracy: At 1.0, It’ll probably become a little clearer in terms of the different revenue streams and business models. At this point, I’m going to leave it at the high-level.

Greg: Rough estimate – when do you think we’ll see 1.0?

Tracy: Soon. I think you’ll see it in early 2009.

Greg: Here’s a question from a MobileCrunch reader: “Does Skyfire currently have any carrier or hardware partnerships, or have any in the works?”

Tracy: We’re definitely in discussion with everyone. In our beta phase, we’ve been very concentrated on direct-to-consumer, which has been going very well. As we get closer to 1.0 we’ll be talking about more of those plans, but one thing that I can tell you is that SFR (which is the second largest carrier in France) just launched a pilot program with us, which is live right now on their site.

Greg: Skyfire currently supports Windows Mobile and Symbian – anything in the works for other platforms?

Tracy: Those two platforms are the ones we’re concentrating on right now, but we have plans to support other platforms. I can tell you that BlackBerry is the most requested from consumers. I mean, we’re inundated with “When is Skyfire coming to my BlackBerry?”. You’ll see Skyfire on other platforms – stay tuned on that front.

Greg: To name one specifically, anything for Android?

Tracy: You know, we’re definitely looking at Android, and we’re following the install base in terms of our resources. We definitely have our hopes on all of the platform opportunities out there .

Greg: When we asked our readers to submit any questions they had for Skyfire, we saw a lot of questions about whether or not Skyfire had any plans for non-phone mobile hardware, like the Archos 5.

Tracy: You know, we are really concentrating our efforts on the smartphone market. A lot of what we’re about is connection – connecting you to the web and what have you. I wouldn’t say that’s a high priority right now, the non-phones.

Greg: Back on the topic of other platforms: Apple and the iPhone. They haven’t really been very open to allowing products that compete with their own into the App Store – is it safe to assume that Skyfire is steering clear of that for now?

Tracy: It does seem restrictive to us. When we look at the iPhone, its been a positive thing for us. As a competitor, its been amazing to see what they’ve done for consumers in terms of awareness and demand for a much better web browsing experience from a phone so, in some regards, the iPhone is a positive thing for us in relation to educating the market. Its also been positive for us in terms of our own business development, and different discussions we’ve had in terms of moving people from a “Maybe,” to a “Sure! We’d like to provide our customers with a better browsing experience”

Greg: What feature request do you see the most?

Tracy: Because we did go out the door delivering on the value prop that you can experience rich media, now I think what we’re seeing more is in regards to usability. These are things we’re working on as we get to 1.0, but it’s definitely more in that realm. Features around easier discoverability with the web and interesting content within.

Greg: You guys unofficially opened up Skyfire usage to the rest of the world, besides just the UK, Canada, and the US. Have you seen much growth since then?

Tracy: The thing that opened it up was the “No Reg” part [Note: Skyfire recently made it so that registration was not required to use the browser], from which we’ve definitely seen a lot of growth, around 7-10x since we removed that barrier.

Greg: How has international reception been? I know that you mentioned growth has been substantial, but how much of that is from outside of the US?

Tracy On two fronts: The pilot in France is a limited pilot, but the reception has been very positive. In terms of the launch in the UK on the 9th of this month, its been very positive and well received.

Greg: Skyfire relies heavily on proxies – how is user data kept secure?

Tracy: That’s taken very seriously here. There’s no personal information stored about a user, we use the industry standards for encryption, and after each session we tear down and clean up the proxy. There are a lot of mechanisms in place across all of the touchpoints involved to keep our users data secure.

Greg: This one is from one of our readers. It reads, “While watching Flash content on Skyfire, I’ve noticed significant synchronization issues between audio and video. While I expect such problems from a beta product, what steps are you taking to problems like this in Skyfire 1.0?”

Tracy: I have to tell you I’m a little bit surprised by the word “significant” – I know that at around our .6 release, we did have what I would call “significant” synchronization issues, but right now we’re not hearing that resounding from the market place. But we’re constantly improving performance in that regards – we are in beta, and we’re doing all the polish right now. It is a real beta in that we have a whole mechanism for listening to our users and escalating [issues] and fixing them, so comments like that we take seriously.

Greg: Another one from a reader: “Any plans to integrate an RSS reader into Skyfire, and if so, when?”

Tracy: It’s definitely something we’re looking at on our roadmap. There are no plans per se, but you know, people can use web-based RSS readers right now in Skyfire, like Google Reader. I can anticipate tighter integration later on, but there’s nothing specific on the roadmap.

Greg: One more from a reader: “Does Skyfire plan to support add-ons or extensions in any sense?”

Tracy: We have a pretty robust architecture, but no plans right now to do so.

Greg: What’s next for Skyfire?

Tracy: We’re gearing up for 1.0, and for more platforms. Like I said, a lot of what we’re working on right now is polishing up usability. You’re really going to see us leverage our value prop of delivering rich media, and taking advantage of what people are doing on the web, whether its sharing content more rather than consuming content.