Skyfire 2.0 for Android launching today

Back in February, Skyfire (makers of the popular, Flash-enabled smartphone browser of the same name) announced that they’d snatched up Kolbysoft, the company behind the well-established Steel browser for Android. Today, we’re seeing the first fruits of that purchase coming to the market: Skyfire for Android is here.

Skyfire’s flagship feature is that it supports Flash video playback, so you’d expect their Android port to do the same, right? And it does! It just does it… a bit differently.

In past versions of Skyfire, Flash videos were embedded and played back directly within the page, just like you might expect from a PC version of the page. With Skyfire 2.0, one more step is thrown into the mix: the “Skybar”. When they’re ready to play back a Flash video, users tap the menu key to bring up the Skybar, click the “Video” label, and then choose which Flash video they want to view. Skyfire converts the video from Flash to H.264 in the cloud on-the-fly, and the video plays back (in full screen) on the device.

Why the change? A rep for Skyfire shared a few reasons with us:

  • In this release, they’re building on top of WebKit rather than building their own browsing core from the ground up. Unlike all other versions of Skyfire, the page itself doesn’t go through a proxy. Standard content goes straight from the web server to the handset — only things that need to be transcoded go through Skyfire’s proxy.
  • Business reasons. Skyfire’s looking at OEM partnerships, and not all OEMs want Flash video playback, as they “want to enhance what they have rather than compete with another browser”.
  • They say it helps them adhere to Apple’s guidelines, improving the odds that they’ll be approved when they go to submit the iPhone/iPad release.

Besides being the window to video, the Skybar also packs a few other tricks. An “Explore” option digs through Youtube, Twitter, Digg, and other sites for relevant video/imagery on the same subject as the content you’re currently looking at. For example: Believe it or not, they have videos of cats doing hilarious things on the Internet now; if you’re watching one of these and tap Explore, it’ll dig through the aforementioned feeds for other, equally hilarious cat videos. The “Share” button will let you sling the page out to Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, SMS, or save it for offline viewing.

Beyond the Skybar, Skyfire’s got a few other features that make it worth checking out: Pinch-to-zoom, tabbed browsing, on-the-fly user agent switching, and optional automatic history dumping (Porn mode!), to name a few.

Check out the video demonstration below, and look for the download to go live here and on the Android Market at right around 9 a.m. PST.