Economic malaise aside, consumers increasingly want to surf the Net on phones, according to Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of the Opera Software. “There is a mega-trend of increased Internet usage,” he told me over breakfast this morning, “and we are in the middle of it, regardless of the economic downturn.”

vontetzchnerBrowser market share data published earlier this month by Net Applications regarding Opera Software’s desktop browser is “plain wrong,” Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of the software company, told me today. He was responding to questions about the report’s conclusion, that Opera’s desktop browser market share was stagnating in the face of more competition from not only Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer but Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome. It did seem like an awfully sharp reversal for a company that has not only thrived as an independent but has developed a cult following, as I noted in an article for Business 2.0 back in 2005.

Market Share

“Net Applications said that we had no growth in 2008,” von Tetzchner went on, “but internally we saw a 67 percent increase in the number of desktop users and a significant rise in revenues.” He said Opera has 35 million active users, which translates into between “2 and 3 percent” market share when it comes to desktop browsers. So why the disparity? “Much of our growth is in emerging markets like India, Indonesia and Russia — and that doesn’t show up in stats,” he explained. “Net Applications is looking at data that is mostly in the U.S. and parts of Western Europe.”

He claimed to see similar misreporting in the mobile browser market share as well (according to von Tetzchner, the Opera Mini is the most popular mobile browser). But it’s the way people have begun to frame all mobile browser conversations around smartphones that really perplexes him. What many fail to remember, he pointed out, is that more than 85 percent of the world’s phones are not “smartphones.”

Smart or not, there are billions of phones out there. With only 21 million active Opera Mini browser users — and more traditional WAP browser competitors like Open Wave, Access and Telica falling off the cliff — von Tetzchner thinks there is plenty of room for Opera to grow. “There is a mega-trend of increased Internet usage and we are in the middle of it, regardless of the economic downturn.”

I’m glad he’s feeling confident, because his company has some serious challenges ahead of it: It’s competing with the same companies it counts among its business partners, such as Google and Nokia. One misstep and Opera could be locked out of much-needed revenues.

The iPhone Effect

As for that mega-trend of increased Internet usage von Tetzchner talked about, he credits the iPhone. “What the iPhone did was make people want a full browser for their phones, and we have that,” von Tetzchner said. At the same time, he called the iPhone “an interesting platform but not a very large platform. So we are going for other market segments.” It could be sour grapes — Apple isn’t, after all, allowing Opera to be sold on the iPhone. Then again, I personally think the iPhone has more of an “influence” on the direction of the mobile industry than most mobile providers would like to admit.

Unsurprisingly, von Tetzchner is not a fan of app stores, believing they are yet another attempt to fragment the market. “We are seeing a lot of widget implementations that are not standardized and don’t work together,” he said. He thinks that eventually all these widgets will converge to a common standard, allowing, say, iPhone apps work on Android and Android on Windows Mobile, etc.

I’m not so sure the end user actually gives a damn if an app works on one platform and not on another. Once you are locked into a two-year contract with your phone, what are the odds that you are switching to another one? Plus these apps are so cheap that many of us would simply download them again anyway. The problem is for the application writers, who have to develop their apps for many different platforms. For von Tetzchner that alone is a reason to believe that standards-based mobile widgets (apps) will eventually happen.

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  1. Nick Caldwell Monday, March 2, 2009

    “We are seeing a lot of widget implementations that are not standardized and don’t work together”

    Two thoughts:

    1) who cares? iPhone app developers are making pretty good money by focusing on one platform!
    2) widgets? I’d like to see the Omnifocus developers faces when they hear such a feature-rich application get called a freaking “widget”!

    Seriously, the iPhone application market is dominating because it’s relatively easy to create sophisticated applications using a development environment that wasn’t designed by sadists. That’s not a trivial advantage.

  2. I will go the other way…Opera has lots of problems with websites. Lots of sites are not supported by this browser. We have seen much problem using Linux also …there is long way to go for Opera to come back into the market of browsers.

    Google Chrome is becoming quite popular with internet users.

  3. Nick Caldwell Monday, March 2, 2009

    Just to switch gears: @sdkrdk – Opera’s rendering engine is one of the most standards compliant around. If a site built by muppets to only work in Internet Explorer fails in Opera, then that’s not Opera’s fault. Thankfully, web designers are far more educated about web standards and best practices and relatively few sites will break outright in Opera.

  4. Arup Roy Chowdhury Ph.D Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    Been an Opera user for 10 years, it remains the browser with best overall performance including an usable interface, I use it for mail as well. I have tried out all the alternatives including Seamonkey and nothing comes close to Opera.

  5. @Nick-Well, I will agree with you but there are many popular sites that fail in Opera. We used to work in this browser but we had to leave it when we used Ubuntu.

    I will talk to one of my friends who will be able to furnish more details over this issue. Thanks for your comments though.

  6. Opera Mini usage has been going up my AT LEAST 10% each month, and went up 18% alone, just last month. http://www.opera.com/smw. So they’re definitely exploding worldwide in the mobile space, and are the dominant mobile browser.

  7. PerfectMOney Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    I don’t think browser really “wars”, I believe.many people already install more then one browser in there system,I myself having 4 browser active and non of them blocking and conflict each system,although all time I use mozila.I m not basically loyal to it. my opera is my secondary update and the other 2 is explorer and safari

  8. Nick Caldwell Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    “We used to work in this browser but we had to leave it when we used Ubuntu.”

    I don’t really get what the difference the operating system would make, provided the browser’s rendering engine was the same on each platform (and I believe it is in Opera’s case).

  9. True…the other browser Mozilla worked quite okay in Ubuntu.

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