Addition 8/14/2011: CloudBrowse is no longer free, it was at the time I wrote this post initially. It’s now a $3 app.
Thanks to a tweet from Dean Shareski, a phone call from Karen Montgomery, and a recent post on iPhoneInCanada, I learned today about the free, Apple-approved / App Store downloadable program “Cloud Browse.” Cloud Browse (direct App Store link) uses VNC technology to let anyone run a full, desktop version of the FireFox web browser on their Apple mobile device.
After installing the free app, upon launching users are connected to a virtualized version of FireFox running somewhere else on planet earth. The company which makes Cloud Browse, AlwaysOn Technologies, is Boston-based, but in today’s networked world it’s anyone’s guess where their actual servers “live.” By default Cloud Browse users are connected via an anonymous account, and can immediately click the “web” button at the bottom of the window to enter a website address / URL.
The performance of Cloud Browse was pretty snappy for me today over home wifi. This VNC solution does support playing Club Penguin, as well as accessing flash-based websites like VoiceThread for playback purposes.
There is NOT virtual microphone support with Cloud Browse, however, so it is NOT possible to actually record audio for a new VoiceThread. You can leave text comments, however, which is certainly better than zero access to VoiceThread through mobile Safari currently.
Within the application, by clicking the information “i” in the lower right corner, a preferences window can be accessed. In addition to providing tutorials about touch-technology gestures which the application supports, users can provide an email address and password to “save sessions” for later logins.
This is probably a good idea, since connections can be lost unexpectedly. If session credentials are not used, everything which was opened and done in the previous session will be lost.
Cloud Browse only has an iPhone / iPod Touch version available currently, and while it DOES function fine on an iPad users have to double the screen size (2x) for full-screen viewing. It’s not perfect, it’s pretty pixelated, and it certainly doesn’t look as gorgeous as most iPad-native applications do running fullscreen. It’s the first application I’ve ever used which permits access to Flash-based websites on an Apple mobile device, however, and I think it’s a harbinger of things to come.
VNC technology running on iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches brings up a host of issues.
- Will people be careful to verify the integrity of companies like AlwaysOn Technologies before entering secure login credentials into a VNC window? (Hopefully all VNC-approved apps like Cloud Browse are fully vetted by Apple and their owners can be trusted to NOT skim website userids/passwords, but that type of identity theft is rampant and always a possibility.)
- Will virtualized browser and other application access like this provide scalable, secure ways for schools and other organizations to provide students with access to licensed / copyrighted materials? (Imagine having your own school iPad / iPod Touch application, which not only provides access to textual content but also to licensed, rich media libraries like Discovery Streaming after users login with their access credentials?)
- Since this type of access provides anonymizing / proxy-based access to websites, what does this mean for online accountability? (Any websites visited/used with an application like this are not saved in a local browser history, or recorded on a local router log.)
What other implications for this type of VNC technology do you see for schools as well as individuals / families?
I know one for sure, in our family… On long car trips with shared 3G wireless data access, it’s going to mean yet ANOTHER reason no one can say, “I’m bored Dad!”
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