SkyFire, pioneer of mobile browsing by proxy, has been shutting down those proxies around the world as the cost of processing everyone's content gets too much for it.
The disappearing proxies were noticed by All About Symbian, which started compiling a list of countries in which SkyFire had stopped working, but rapidly reversed that into a list of countries in which it continues to operate: USA, UK and Canada.
The message presented to users, and reproduced by All About Symbian, claims the service will run down entirely on 1 July because "SkyFire is consolidating the countries in which it operates". Strangely the message refers specifically to the Windows Mobile and Symbian versions of the free browser, ignoring the recently-updated Android version – the company hasn't yet responded to our request for more information.
SkyFire offloads processing to the national proxy server in order to reduce the burden on the handset, meaning that even quite basic handsets can support Flash animations and streaming video, and reducing the bandwidth too. The concept wasn't new when SkyFire deployed it, and these days Opera Turbo offers the same sort of functionality, but SkyFire's support for streaming video gained it a second-browser spot on a lot of handsets.
But unlike Opera, SkyFire's browser is entirely dependent on those proxies – turning the browser from a capital expenditure in which one can invest, into an operational expenditure which needs constant funding. Every new customer costs the company money, which must be recovered from somewhere.
SkyFire, like Opera, hopes to make that money though a combination of charging manufacturers to pre-install the browser, and from content deals such as using a specific search engine or linking to social networking sites. From the message it would seem that in most countries that revenue isn't covering the cost of running those proxies, so the company is pulling the plug.
Windows Mobile is a dead platform walking, but Symbian should continue to be in SkyFire's target demographic – even more so given Nokia's avowed intention to push the platform into the mid-range. The Android version of SkyFire, which was updated only a few days ago, isn't mentioned in the message, but it would be strange to see support continued for one platform while being dropped for others.
There are still too many mobile browsers, given the immature market and unproven revenue stream, so some consolidation is inevitable. SkyFire isn't out of the running yet, but it doesn't bode well. ®