Given the current spirit of frugality that fills the air due to the credit crises I'm reconsidering whether to replace my AT&T Tilt (aka HTC Kaiser) with an iPhone 3G. After test driving a couple of iPhones I've realized that the really compelling reason for me to switch is to get a fully-featured Web browser instead of my current situation of having to choose between text-based "mobile" versions of popular sites or mangled Web pages.

I was discussing this with a coworker and he suggested that I try out alternative browsers for the Windows Mobile before getting an iPhone. I'd previously tried DeepFish from the Microsoft Live Labs team but found it too buggy to be usable. I looked for it again recently but it seems it has been cancelled. This led me to try out SkyFire which claims to give a complete PC-style Web browsing experience [including Flash Video, AJAX, Silverlight and Quicktime video] on a mobile phone.

After using SkyFire for a couple of days, I have to admit that it is a much improved Web browsing experience compared to what shipped by default on my phone. At first I marveled at how a small startup could build such a sophisticated browser in what seems like a relatively short time until I learned about the clever hack which is at the center of the application. None of the actual rendering and processing of content is done on your phone. Instead, there is an instance of a Web browser (supposedly Firefox) running on the SkyFire servers which acts as a proxy for your phone and then sends you a compressed image of the fully rendered results. There is still some clever hackery involved especially with regards to converting a streaming Flash video into a series of animated image and accompanying sound then sending it down to your phone in real-time. However it is nowhere near as complex as shipping complete Javascript, Flash, Quicktime and Silverlight implementations on mobile phone browser. 

The one problem with SkyFire's approach is that all of your requests go through their servers. This means your passwords, emails, bank account records or whatever other Web sites you visit with your mobile browser will flow through SkyFire's servers. This may be a deal breaker for some while for others it will mean being careful about what sites they visit using the browser. 

If this sounds interesting, check out the video demo below

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