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Flash coming to iPhone and iPad - really

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- IPhone and iPad users' long wait for an app that allows them to view Flash videos is about to be over.

Skyfire, which will be available for download at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday for $2.99, is the first such application to receive Apple's approval for distribution in its App Store.

Despite recently easing its restrictions on the kind of applications that can be approved for its App Store, Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) still does not support content encoded in Adobe's Flash for its iOS devices, namely the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

Adobe (ADBE) says nearly 75% of online video is encoded in Flash, but Apple CEO Steve Jobs has said that Flash performs poorly on mobile devices and sucks up battery life.

To get around Apple's restriction, Skyfire came up with an innovative solution: When users click on a page that contains Flash video, Skyfire's servers download, render and translate the video into HTML5, which is a Web standard that iOS devices support. Skyfire then displays a thumbnail that users can click on to stream the video from its servers.

"We will attack those pesky blue Flash error messages," said Jeffrey Glueck, Skyfire's CEO.

The app will work on the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch, though the company noted that it is working on an iPad-specific app that is not yet available.

Determining what percentage of online video is unavailable to iOS devices -- and how much will be available once Skyfire is released -- is a tricky task. Though three-quarters of Web video may be encoded in Flash, that doesn't mean that video is encoded only in Flash. More than half of the videos found online are also available in HTML5, according to a recent study by MeFeedia.

YouTube, for instance, encodes its videos in multiple formats, including Flash and HTML5, so it can be viewed on mobile devices without Flash support.

But one major website that Skyfire won't have an effect on is Hulu, which blocked the app from downloading its videos. Hulu, which hosts TV shows and movies from the major networks and studios, is free for PC users in the United States. But mobile users have to pay $10 a month for a subscription to Hulu Plus.

The app won't translate games or other non-video content that runs in Flash, however. Still, Glueck estimates that the number of websites and videos that Skyfire will open up to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users is in the "millions."

Skyfire also has a similar app available for Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) Android. Viewing Flash is already possible on some Android devices, but only those running Android 2.2, which is on just one-third of Android phones, according to Google.

Like the Android version, Skyfire for iOS isn't a standalone application, but rather a tool that works on top of Apple's Safari Web browser.

As a result, the company said the app received a rather rigorous review from Apple, but it was approved in less than two months. Apple did not return a request for comment on why it approved Skyfire for its App Store.

Skyfire first debuted on Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) Windows Mobile and Nokia (NOK) phones in May 2008, and its first iteration surpassed 3 million downloads. But the program was criticized for bugginess, sluggishness and privacy concerns.

Glueck insists those problems were fixed with Skyfire 2.0, which was unveiled in May 2010 on Android. That app was well received by critics and the public, with more than 1.5 million downloads. The company has received $25 million in venture capital funds, which Glueck said were almost all poured back into building the application.

He also said Skyfire has gone "beyond the norms" to ensure users' privacy: The company collects no personal information about its users, only selling keywords to advertisers, similar to how Google's AdWords business works.

For secured sites like online banking, Skyfire turns off its enhanced Web services so that those sites are rendered on users' phones and not on Skyfire's servers.

"We're a consumer business, so the trust of our users is everything to us," said Glueck. "Our business is not about advertising at all." To top of page

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