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Flash On iOS; Two Solutions; One Pretty Good, One Not So Hot – The ‘Book Mystique

Steve Jobs was famously no fan of Adobe’s flash video standard. In April, 2010, he posted a 1700+ word essay on Apple’s site explaining why the company refused to support Flash video on iPhones, iPads, and iPods. He posited a thoroughgoing, albeit in my estimation less than compelling, case.

The flaw in Mr. Jobs’s argument was not that he was wrong about several other video formats being more modern, more efficient, and nonproprietary (although he had to do an intricate dance of rationalizing that criticism in the context of Apple’s own vigorously guarded proprietary standards), but that in practical, real-world terms, even now nearly 2 years later, websites that I visit every day with my iPad feature Flash video content that I’m locked out of, at least by default, but which I don’t want to be.

Jobs scorned Flash as being an obsolete relic from the PC and mouse era, but hey, guess what? I still depend on a Mac personal computer to get my work done, and a mouse is still my preferred point click and drag input device. And until Flash content is completely gone from major general access sites on the Internet, refusing to support it based on a philosophical or ideological notion is just plain dumb. So what to do? Well, happily there are workarounds.

For example, the main general news site I visit several times a day posts most of its video clips and other video content in Flash format. Not having Flash support on the iPad has been of course a major annoyance, but, I didn’t really realize how much I’ve been missing Flash until I got Flash support back, thanks to a couple of third-party apps — one that I’ve been using for months, and another that I just checked out recently. I don’t doubt that there are others, but here’s how the two I have used performed for me.

Puffin 2.3.3 Browser For iOS With Flash Engine

Puffin, even absent the Flash issue, is one of my favorite iOS Web browsers. It is distinguished by its speed and deep feature set. My seat-of-the-pants impression finds Puffin the fastest iOS browser — the developers say “wicked fast” thanks to Puffin’s leveraging of a massive Cloud computing data center proxy server to pre-process Web pages, which not only accelerates page rendering speed, but also reduces network data bandwidth usage. Puffin’s speed advantage is highlighted even more on slower mobile connections, and the developers contend that once you experience “the thrill of using Puffin,” using regular mobile Internet just feels like torture. That’s exaggeration, but the speed is seductive.

Developer CloudMosa, Inc. says its super-fast server has 32 cores and 768GB memory, and an Internet backbone with 10Gbps bandwidth and 1ms latency to major web sites. As a result, they claim that Puffin can execute JavaScript 5x faster than the closest competitors, and that based on SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark, Puffin is 550% faster than the iPad’s built-in Safari browser, and 1600% faster than Chrome and other alternative browsers on the iOS platform. I can’t vouch scientifically for those metrics, but Puffin is definitely fast.

A free (ad-supported) version — Puffin Web Browser Free — is available, but the $2.99 paid version also gives you Flash compatibility, and the upgraded Flash engine in the latest version 2.3.3 is claimed to improve both Flash display smoothness and battery life.

A trial of paid Puffin’s Flash support is enabled by default in all downloads of Puffin, and you can extend your free Flash trial time by recommending Puffin to your friends, up to a maximum of 12. Each referral nets you 4 more weeks of Flash support. For more details, visit:
http://www.puffinbrowser.com/intro/?ref=ccgphczzxdkga

Other cool Puffin features are text selection arrows that really work, substituting decently-sized yellow arrows for those wretched blue dots in other browsers and most other iOS apps.

Puffin’s unique virtual mouse technology is intended to help bridge the divergence between mobile and desktop computing experiences. Users can activate the trackpad through the virtual mouse at any time and use it in a manner similar to using a trackpad on laptops. I think it’s great, just tap the little mouse icon down in the left lowermost corner of the browser window, and a translucent virtual touchpad appears on screen, allowing you to navigate and click with an arrow-shaped cursor icon. I still much prefer mouse-and-cursor input to touchscreen modes, and this is the next best thing. I wish that not just all iOS browsers, but all iOS apps had this feature.

Puffin’s virtual trackpad feature has now been joined in version 2.3.3 by a new virtual GamePad that can simulate arrow keys and buttons. To launch the virtual GamePad on an iPad, tap on the GamePad button at the right-bottom corner of the user interface window. To launch virtual GamePad on iPhone, press the menu button and choose launch GamePad. When virtual GamePad shows up, tap the setup button to configure the mapped buttons. There are also new scroll to edge buttons that appear when you scroll a page fast enough. Once the scroll to edge button shows up, tapping it will scroll to the end of current scrolling direction.

Getting back to Puffin’s Flash support, it works quite well. Lip synch is not perfect (or even close to it), and there’s some audio drop-off at times — at least over my relatively slow wireless broadband Internet service. But it beats the whizz out of no Flash support at all, and as noted Puffin is an attractive general purpose browser for a whole raft of other reasons.

System requirements:
Puffin is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), and all iPad versions.

App Store Puffin Browser Free:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/puffin-web-browser-free/id472937654?mt=8#

App Store Puffin Browser paid version:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/puffin/id406239138?mt=8

For more information, visit:
http://www.puffinbrowser.com/

Facebook support site:
http://www.facebook.com/puffinbrowser

Follow on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/puffinbrowser

Find on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/puffinbrowser

Demo videos on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/puffinbrowser

VirtualChrome App With Support For Flash, Java, and Extensions on iPad

VirtualChrome 1.3 for iPad is a new browser application from California based Xform Computing that claims to bring the full Chrome browser experience to the iOS. This may be somewhat confusing, since there is also an official Chrome iOS browser app already (which I’ve been underwhelmed by so far), plus the Google Search app (which I love, and which is one of my favorite iOS software tools). However, Virtual Chrome’s developers include support for Flash video as well as Java runtime applications. The latter capability doesn’t really interest me particularly. I’m not much of a gamer, and encounter Java so seldom in my web meanderings that I’ve lately taken to turning Java support off in browser preferences as a foil against the Java-borne malware attacks that have been targeting Macs over the past year or so.

Using the power of cloud computing, VirtualChrome claims to provide users with a real desktop-class Chrome browser experience via an ultra-secure virtual system, liberating consumer and business iPad users to run almost any website or Java application. Thousands of commercial and enterprise Java applications can be deployed on iPad using VirtualChrome. All connections are RSA encrypted for maximum security.

“Anyone who has used an iPad knows its limitations,” says Kroum Antov, CEO of Xform Computing, “which include lack of support for Adobe Flash, Java applications, Chrome Extensions, and the Chrome Web Store. VirtualChrome delivers these key capabilities on iPad today.”

Or so goes the theory.

Unfortunately, I’ve found Virtual Chrome as much a disappointment as I had Puffin a pleasant surprise. As I noted above, even aside from the Flash video support issue, Puffin is an excellent, general purpose Web browser that I enjoy using even when Flash is not in play.

VirtualChrome, on the other hand, offers about as bad a browsing experience as I’ve encountered on the iPad. Yes, it plays Flash content, but with herky-jerky video rendering and bad lip-synch — at least on my iPad 2 over my ISP’s middling-fast wireless broadband network. The user interface is also both maddeningly sluggish and frustratingly unintuitive.

A Xform Computing spokesman had warned me that the VirtualChrome app is targeted at a set of specific use cases like Chrome users, Flash, Java, and Chrome extensions and apps.

The tradeoff, he said, is that it’s run through a virtual system, thus there is some latency with gestures. He wasn’t kidding!

He also claimed that in his tests, larger/complex web pages actually load faster overall on VirtualChrome compared with native browsers, and that the developers are working on improving things like smoothing the scrolling to take the edge off the user interactions, and users can expect big updates in the coming months. That’s good to hear because scrolling is currently awful — herky-jerky and sluggish.

A VirtualChrome feature is a Video Mode button, with a Video mode for smoother video and a Text/image mode for sharper text and still images. Frankly, while Video mode did make text and still images unsharp, I didn’t find that video mode helped much with Flash videos.

Another aggravation; every session (including if you’ve just switched out to another app for a moment) begins with an ad promo, and if you switch to another app momentarily your session is terminated if you’re in the “Basic” service’s default “incognito” mode and the Web page you were on disappears.

More oddness and angularity, in order to activate the keyboard you have to manually tap the keyboard toggle button in the upper right-hand corner. Some folks might actually prefer it that way, but it is counter-intuitive compared to what we’re used to from other apps.

The ability to select and copy text was erratic at best, and usually wouldn’t work at all. Having a clicked link open in new or background tab wasn’t obviously supported either.

There is also a Mouse Mode with a virtual trackpad.

VirtualChrome is an interesting app in concept, but it’s definitely a work-in-progress that should be designated a beta. Hopefully the problems can be wrung out. I’ll be checking it periodically for improvement. However, I really can’t recommend this browser at this stage it’s development when an alternative as superior as Puffin is available. Bottom line. In my estimation, Puffin provides a much more satisfactory Flash video solution for the iPad, with quality at least as good as VirtualChrome’s, and for a lot less money. You also can check it out for for free.

If you want Java, of course, Puffin doesn’t support that and VirtualChrome does, so in that context, the choice is clear. However, if it’s Flash support you’re looking for, at this stage Puffin is the way to go.

Basic and Premium editions of VirtualChrome are available: Basic edition, which the tester copy was, sells for $0.99 , and provides anonymous browsing (history, settings, cookies, etc. cleared between sessions), full support for Flash, audio and video streaming, and a limited trial of Java.

VirtualChrome Premium subscription adds extended usage time, Java support, and saving of data (Chrome login sync, history, tabs, bookmarks, passwords etc.) between sessions, is available by In-App Purchase at what is touted as an introductory sale price of $9.99/year subscription.

VirtualChrome 1.3:
http://linktrack.info/vchrome-home

Purchase and Download:
http://goo.gl/DA6OU

YouTube Video (Demo):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzWBfTbun8w

Facebook Profile:
http://www.facebook.com/PlaySwagger

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