New mobile browser enables Flash video through server-side rendering

While the mobile phone industry scrambles to adopt faster graphics platforms for rendering video, a startup may have bypassed everyone with an approach so simple, you wonder why nobody tried it already.

In a development that could very well turn the whole mobile rendering technology argument on its ear, a startup company founded just last June called Skyfire emerged from stealth mode this morning with a private beta of a Web browser for mobile phones whose graphics are rendered through a proxy located at the company's servers.

With the server capable of rendering any kind of embedded, full-motion graphics including Flash and QuickTime, a relatively simple handset does not need to contain codec-enabled embedded hardware in order to display real-time video, including from YouTube.

The result, as a demonstration video appears to show, is the ability for a much simpler device than Apple's iPhone to display Web pages in at least their originally intended format, and at least somewhat legible fashion.

All the browser management functions, including history and bookmarks, remain on the client side. Only rendering takes place at the server, using what's been described as an implementation of the open-source Gecko engine, used by Mozilla in Firefox. So we're not looking at a virtual browser residing on a server, but instead a physical client-side browser whose link to the Skyfire server is graphical.

A demonstration of the Skyfire mobile browser in action, including its capability to present server-rendered Flash video, plus its local capability to zoom into localized regions of the page using a stylus control. The device used here is a Windows Mobile device connected to the Sprint network via 1x EV-DO.

Very little is known about the company that up until this weekend had been going by the stealth name DVC Labs. We do know the private beta is limited to Windows Mobile, and that the company says it intends to expand to Symbian in later months.

But most importantly about what is not known is what Skyfire's business model is intended to be. At present, the company touts its product as "on the phone you own -- and free." A $4.8 million initial investment last June by two well-known venture capital firms suggests a business model does exist somewhere. Possibly the company may be shopping for carriers willing to supply their customers with Skyfire service in bulk, as part of their monthly service plans.

What did not bode well for Skyfire throughout Monday morning, however, was a beta sign-up page that would not come up in our regular PC's browsers, let alone anyone's mobile phone. Step one for the new company may be to address a rapidly rising tide of interest.

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