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Skyfire exec talks up scaling mobile Web browser

Credits Apple iPhone for advances in mobile Web services

By , Network World
July 09, 2008 10:45 AM ET

Network World - Who: Mike Rowehl
Title:
Scalability architect
Company: Skyfire Labs, Mountain View, Calif.
Product: The hot new Skyfire mobile Web browser, now in limited beta for Windows Mobile devices
The job:
The Skyfire browser is hosted on servers; Rowehl has to make sure each server can support the maximum number of users sessions, and that the software scales smoothly over multiple CPUs

Rowehl, a mobile software programmer, dropped out of Rochester Institute of Technology's computer science program after three years. That's not been a drawback: he has nearly a decade of experience designing and building open source, mobile applications for companies such as AdMob, Ning, Bitsplitter (his own company) and Feedster. He'd been consulting for Skyfire before being hired July 1, the first high-profile employee since Skyfire won $13 million in Series B funding in June. With Russell Beatie, his co-founder for now defunct Mowser, Rowehl launched Mobile Monday Silicon Valley, a monthly open meeting for folks interested in mobile applications.

When did your interest start in the mobile Web?

My first tentative experience was in 2003 and 2004. I was working in Europe for a company that did home automation and security. Our embedded Linux device was installed in the home, and we worked on a Web interface so home owners could access the device and check a security camera or change heating settings from their mobile phone.

Where did things stand in 2003 for the mobile Web?

Until recently you had to develop a custom Web site for mobile content. There were different markup languages and different protocols. Even if you were developing to an industry standard like WAP [Wireless Application Protocol, for presenting Web information on handhelds, developed by the WAP Forum, which folded into the Open Mobile Alliance], certain devices supported different capabilities. Some accepted certain kinds of shortcuts, some didn't. It was very difficult to get even a minimal functional set of features on a device.

What's changed over the past year?

There's been a convergence of the desktop Web and mobile device Web. There's still a need to tell your application [about the device] a lot of times, so the information displayed is relevant to users on the go or with a small screen device. And if you choose to optimize that further, you now have tools to do it with. It's not a major porting effort anymore.

The iPhone in particular has done a fantastic job. Since 1999, we've been asking 'what's the application that will cause people to pull out their phones and engage with other data services?' The iPhone really cracked that open, and people are starting to think differently about the services on their device.

The iPhone cracked it open how?

[With the Safari browser,] any Web site that's out there, minus Flash content, is useable on the mobile device. With iPhone, you go to CNN.com and get what you expect to see. The marketing push that Apple put behind this, in changing the average user's expectations, has been one of their major contributions.

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