How to “sell out” an iOS Application (Or: How not to launch a mobile application)

For five fleeting hours earlier today, the Skyfire browser application was available on the iPhone App Store. Skyfire had previously been available on the Android platform with some success, receiving decent reviews although not providing any features particularly outstanding. It is essentially a replacement for the browser on the target operating system; its key Android features are user agent switching and related content. On iOS, however, it enables the viewing of Flash video from the web – something you can’t do with Safari on the iPhone.

To enable this behaviour, the flash video is transcoded by the Skyfire servers in realtime. They take the Flash video input, convert it into a format that is suitable for the device the viewer is using, and download it to them over their wireless connection so that they can watch. However, following its massive popularity on the iPhone platform, these servers were brought down by the sheer volume of users trying to view videos on their devices. As a result, SkyFire labelled themselves “Sold Out” and withdrew their app from sale while their servers recover.

This is of similar embarassment as the initial Flipboard launch; Flipboard is a “social newspaper” application for the iPad which experienced similar launch-day problems when the sheer volume of users exerting load on their servers brought them down. The problem of a sought-after mobile application launching with a dependency on server-side processing as one of its core features is dealing with the inevitable first day load. While you could “use the cloud”, there may be specific infrastructure requirements; there’s also no point putting a huge infrastructure behind an application just for it to fade to the back of users’ minds 3 days later.

Read about SkyFire on their site, or check out Engadget, Cnet or The Reg for a little more on its swift demise.

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