Skyfire Burns Through The Beta Tag, Coming Soon For BlackBerry

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After 473 days of beta testing and many, many preliminary releases, the rich multimedia mobile browser Skyfire has just hit version 1.0. Though Skyfire’s biggest features (namely, its ability to handle formats like Flash and Silverlight) have been in since its early days, there’s enough polish and primp in this release to justify branding it with a whole number.

Before we dive too deep, check out a few numbers that Skyfire disclosed to us this morning: during the beta period, Skyfire saw over 1 million users. Of these users, 1 out of 3 uses Skyfire at least 3 times a day. People seem to turn to Skyfire primarily for browsing full-featured websites, with Facebook, Hulu, Gmail, Myspace, and Youtube all amongst the most popular.

We’ve been playing with Skyfire since the days when obtaining a beta key required you to climb a mountain, recite a secret incantation (backwards), and create a swine flu vaccine using nothing but a turkey baster and some orange peels. That said, this is the first release we’ve seen that really feels finished.

What’s new this time around:

  • Improved Zoom: Rather than jumping directly from zoomed out to zoomed in when a user double taps, it now smoothly transitions from one to the other. It’s purely visual, but it really improves the process.
  • Improved start times: In previous builds, you had to wait until your start page was loaded before Skyfire would respond. Now you can change URLs or search via the “Superbar” as soon as they appear.
  • Last state reconnection: If you minimize Skyfire, it will now load back to the page you were on, rather than your start page. If you fully exit the application, it will go to your start page upon relaunch.
  • AJAX performance enhancements
  • When returning to a previous page, Skyfire will place you at the exact position and zoom level you left at.
  • Thumbnail Interaction: In previous builds, clicking on links required you to zoom in first. In version 1.0, you can click any links that are visible at any zoom level.
  • iFrame handling improvements

This release is quite near perfect, though not without its flaws. On at least three occasions during our testing (on a Sprint HTC Touch Pro), the loading bar would reach roughly 95%, only to grind to a halt. Once this happened, we were unable to get any page to load without fully quitting and reopening the application. Additionally, one feature we’d hoped to see make it in by 1.0 is still no where to be seen: local file storage for Flash and Silverlight. A few of the heavier streaming sites (such as Netflix) rely on this to function properly, so its absence is unfortunate. Even so, Skyfire is still quite a bit ahead of the curve in terms of sites it can load.

Additionally, Skyfire also confirmed that they are working on a BlackBerry port, as leaked last month. No ETA is given, though they do say that a public beta will be made available. Finally, a BlackBerry browser worth using.

Now that Skyfire is at 1.0, we’ll be pitting it against a handful of other mobile browsers in a head-to-head battle, publishing the results sometime in the next few days. If we don’t get too distracted watching stuff on Hulu on our phones, that is.

Check out Skyfire on Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 here.

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