GamesBeat

Finally approved by Apple, iSwifter 3.0 launches its game browser for the iPad

Startup iSwifter has created the ability to stream a Flash game onto the iPad through a special app. Normally, Adobe Flash games (which are ubiquitous on the web) don’t run on Apple’s iPad, thanks to a technical dispute between the companies. But after a period of negotiation with Apple, iSwifter is making the impossible possible with the launch of version 3.0 of its app, which comes with a subscription-based game browser.

With this game-browser app, iPad users will be able to log into online games like World of Warcraft or play social games such as CityVille on their iPads, even though those games aren’t playable on Apple’s device in any other way. (You could try to access them through a browser, but they would run too slowly).

Users can get the iSwifter app with a regular web browser that can play Flash videos and other web content on an iPad. That costs $2.99 a month. Or they can get the iSwifter app with a content-aware game browser, which is available for a subscription of $4.99 a month. Both deliver Flash and game content — including any social games or massively multiplayer online games. That content looks good and runs fast on an iPad, said Rajat Gupta, chief executive of iSwifter.

“Users are clamoring for a way to play their favorite Facebook games on the iPad,” Gupta said. “We make that possible.”

The first couple of versions of iSwifter, a Burlingame, Calif.-based startup that was spawned by the incubator YouWeb, enabled users to watch videos and play a limited number of Flash games on an iPad. But version 3.0 allows you to log into social networks such as Facebook and play a variety of Flash-based games such as FarmVille, Gupta said in an interview.

Apple still has its objections to Flash, but iSwifter was able to get around those objections with its cloud-based technology. It executes the Flash content in its own data center and then sends video down the pipe to the user’s iPad, which has to be connected to a Wi-Fi connection. By doing this, iSwifter has created a tool to handle the flood of demand for Flash content on an Apple-created device. With iSwifter, users can get to just about any Flash ads, games or videos on the web.

Apple approved the previous versions of iSwifter without much interchange. But this approval process was lengthier and tougher because iSwifter introduced a new monetization feature. Gupta said he wanted to launch a subscription service where a user would sign up once for iSwifter and the subscription would automatically renew at the end of each month. But Apple balked and required that iSwifter’s users approve the subscription at the end of every month. That way, users won’t get surprised by monthly bills. It isn’t exactly clear why Apple required this restriction for iSwifter, but Gupta said he had to go along.

“Apple took its time to evaluate what this product means, and we were able to agree on the exact rollout and the business model,” Gupta said.

When you load the app, you have two options. You can browse web sites or play games. With the web sites, you can choose from one of the featured links or just type in the web address to go to any web site. For games, there is one game that is available for free each week. The others are available as free-to-play games. After a couple of minutes of playing, the user is prompted to make an in-app purchase to continue playing. If there is a drawback to iSwifter, it is that it needs a constant Wi-Fi connection in order to run, as the video has to be streamed in near real-time to create a continuous and good experience for the user. Gupta says that the amount of bandwidth required to support the app isn’t huge.

You can log into web sites such as Facebook and play Flash-based games such as FarmVille with iSwifter. Gupta says that iSwifter would be useful on Android systems as well, even though Flash is going to be available on those devices. That’s because all of the capabilities of Flash aren’t available on those devices. Right now, iSwifter runs on just the iPad.

It’s worth noting that many Flash web sites are written for PCs and need a mouse and keyboard. That means they won’t work well on a mobile device unless they are redone in a touchscreen-friendly way. But iSwifter has built software — an abstraction layer built into the cloud platform — that captures a user’s touch-based gestures and converts them into mouse and keyboard-style inputs that Flash games can understand. That conversion is done in real-time.

iSwifter is part of YouWeb, the technology incubator headed by Peter Relan, the chairman of CrowdStar, Aurora Feint and Sibblingz. iSwifter has created a Flash streaming service that is operated in the cloud, or web-connected data centers. With iSwifter, game developers can find a way to get their content from one platform to another, even if there is an obstacle standing in their way. The same is true for Flash-based video web sites.

The service is a great way to get around walled gardens. If companies such as Apple allow the app, it can then bring content that might otherwise not run — or be allowed to run — on the particular platform. By making their games available on iSwifter, game developers can avoid being locked out of certain platforms. But there are limits to that, as Apple still has approval over whether iSwifter is allowed to be run on Apple platforms.

The good thing for developers is they do not have to incur costs to adapt their games, changing them from one format to another, just to expand their reach to new platforms.

Developers who have free-to-play games may be particularly interested in making their games accessible via iSwifter 3.0. That’s because iSwifter can extend distribution for the web-based games to the Apple platform. If users buy virtual goods in those games, the developers can make money from the purchases. Apple still gets paid, meanwhile, because it gets 30 percent of the revenue from subscription fees generated by iSwifter, per Apple’s business rules.

The game browser is a lot like Netflix, which offers all the movies you can watch for $9.99 a month, said Peter Relan, founder of YouWeb. Users can download iSwifter 3.0 for free and try it out free for seven days.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Think Equity, said he thinks the iSwifter browser is a good idea, since some of the biggest fans of social games or MMOs won’t mind shelling out a few dollars a month to get access to their favorite games while on the run.

The iSwifter browser competes with the Skyfire browser, which costs $4.99 on the iPad. But the Skyfire browser isn’t really built to handle games or Flash animations, particularly since it can’t convert finger touches into mouse clicks.

We’ll be exploring the most disruptive mobile trends at our fourth annual MobileBeat 2011 conference, on July 12-13 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. It will focus on the rise of 4G and how it delivers the promise of true mobile computing. We’re also accepting entries for our mobile startup competition at the show. MobileBeat is co-located with our GamesBeat 2011 conference this year. To register, click on this link. Sponsors can message us at sponsors@venturebeat.com.


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