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Summary:

Opera’s browser is already on many devices — phones, computers, and even Nintendo’s Wii. But there’s one key device missing: Apple’s iPhone. At Mobile World Congress, Opera will preview a version of Mini for the iPhone. But why?

opera-mini-iphone

Opera is jumping into the iPhone App Store wars — or at the very least, plans to. The browser company out of Oslo today announced a sneak peek at Opera Mini for iPhone, which it will show off to select press attendees during next week’s Mobile World Congress. But having a working browser application and getting it into the iPhone App Store are two very different things. Some third-party browsers ran the gauntlet successfully, but I’m not certain that they’re still available. Quite often, Apple rejects software that replicates the native functions built into the iPhone OS. Clearly, a browser fits that rejection criteria from Apple’s point of view.

Opera has to know this, so I wonder why it’s even treading this path. Safari on the iPhone certainly isn’t perfect, but the browsing experience is obviously more than good enough for most. How else would the iPhone platform account for a highly disproportionate amount of web requests around the world when compare to sales figures? Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder of Opera Software, justifies it this way:

“This is a unique opportunity to introduce the fast, feature-rich Opera Mini experience for the iPhone, and to showcase our latest beta releases of Opera Mobile and Opera Mini on other platforms and devices. Opera’s mission is to bring the Web to the world, and by making Opera Mini available on yet another platform, we are one step closer.”

Based on those statements, it’s all about bringing features to the iPhone — and getting the Opera browser on as many devices as possible. The “bring to the Web to the world” bit doesn’t quite wash, though. Possibly more than any other recent device, the iPhone has already brought the web to the world, no? The handset is oft purchased by those that have never used email on a mobile device, never saw the web on the small screen and have only just recently heard the term “smartphone.”

The Opera browsing platform does offer unique and useful features. I love the Turbo function, for example. Speed Dial, tabbed browsing and password management in Opera Mobile for Windows Mobile are also welcome features. Clearly, Opera offers a solid feature set. But even if Opera Mini for iPhone makes it to the App Store — and I’d bet against that — will tens of millions of iPhone owners give up on Safari to learn a new interface? Safari is practically the face of the iPhone for most. As much as I like choice and competition, I just don’t see it happening.

My personal opinions aside, I don’t see Opera Mini for iPhone as just a pure iPhone play. The goal here isn’t to solely get Opera Mini on more handets — it’s also to get Opera on more desktops. While many of the key Opera features stand strongly on their own, it’s the functionality between mobile browser and desktop browser that really add value. Opera Link synchronizes the Speed Dial and bookmarks between the two, for example. And if you don’t think that’s important, then you should tell the Mozilla folks to abandon their Weave project. Of course, this functionality overlaps a bit with the synchronization feature in Apple’s iTunes, adding another reason why Apple is unlikely to let this happen.

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

What Does the Future Hold for Browsers?

  1. I thought there were already browsers in the App Store: http://www.macrumors.com/2009/01/13/apple-allows-3rd-party-web-browsers-in-app-store/

    Why would Apple reject Opera Mini?

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    1. That article is 13 months old and two of the four browsers mentioned are no longer in the App Store. Apple may let some smaller browsers through but a browser platform with a global presence like Opera isn’t likely. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen, of course, but my gut says no.

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    2. I was thinking this too. I’ve just counted over 40 in the UK app store, one that even seems to lift Opera’s speed dial.

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    3. All those browsers use the Safari rendering engine. That’s the key difference with Opera which would be the first real alternative to Safari.

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      1. Just to be clear, Opera would be the first alternative rendering engine.

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      2. That’s a key point that I glossed over, Gavin — thanks for shining a light on it. AFAIK (corrections welcome), Opera Mini uses Java ME and the Presto rendering engine. Maybe Opera integrated their bits with WebKit and Safari, but I suspect not.

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      3. Okay, I see now.

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  2. because iphone users are sheep who buy anything flashy regardless of its usefulness (demonstrated by the fact that they are iphone users). if opera can make it onto the app store they will make a boatload of cash when the herd catches wind of a new icon to place on their cluttered screens

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    1. Hello troll.

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    2. I’m sure Opera would charge for their app /sarcasm

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  3. So when should we expect the lawsuits to begin in Europe because Apple restricts the browser you can have on your device? Seems like what was fair for Microsoft should also apply to Apple, especially as it’s presence in the market continues to grow.

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    1. Microsoft had an effective OS monopoly. Apple does not have a smartphone monopoly.

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      1. Tell that to the people who said “the iPhone platform account for a highly disproportionate amount of web requests around the world.”

        Actually I think Apple’s tight control over the iphone/ipod and their integration of Safari with the Mac OS and Google’s Chrome OS (how much more tightly can a browser and an OS be tied together) shows how bogus the issues with Microsoft an IE really were.

        But the real issue here is how bad Safari really is as a mobile browser. Yes I use it but I have no other choice.

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      2. Tell that to the people who said “the iPhone platform account for a highly disproportionate amount of web requests around the world.”

        That doesn’t indicate a monopoly. That indicates a disproportionately high use of the Web among iPhone users compared to other websurfing platforms. Microsoft got busted because OEMs needed to license Windows in order to sell computers, and Microsoft leveraged that necessity to force exclusive installation of IE on new machines. Apple doesn’t have a comparable position with smartphones. (Nor does anyone else, at least at this point.)

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    2. “But the real issue here is how bad Safari really is as a mobile browser. Yes I use it but I have no other choice.”

      Sure you do. Droid, Nexus One, Palm Pre..they all have different browsers to use.

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  4. You forgot the other strategy-get rejected by the App Store, then gain incredible publicity as you wage a very public war over the unfairness of Apple, how they are stifling competition, etc., bringing more attention to Opera Mobile than you could ever possibly get by actually being accepted and ignored on the iPhone platform.

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  5. The answer to the question, why would Opera do this is simple… Opera is stupid.

    I’d sooner own a Mac than actually use an Opera browser! :)

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