I don’t use any browser on my iPhone other than Mobile Safari. And, unless you have a jailbroken iPhone, neither do you.
That’s because Apple’s webkit-powered Mobile Safari provides the browser engine for all the iPhone’s various windows onto the Interweb. So, whether you’re viewing a webpage from inside Tweetie 2, Instapaper or any one of the multitude of apps that allow for in-app web browsing, you’re using Mobile Safari.
Back in early February at the Mobile World Congress, Opera showed off an iPhone version of their mobile browser, Opera Mini, to a select group of reporters and tech-pundits. That left me a little confused; how could they produce a real browser, built from the ground-up, using its own in-house rendering engine, without breaking the rules?
You see, Apple has a strict rule that native applications are not permitted to reproduce the functionality offered by the iPhone out-of-the-box. That’s why you don’t see a third-party Camera app that doesn’t also offer some kind of additional “unique” functionality you wouldn’t get by simply using Apple’s own Camera software. The same goes for email applications, phone applications, iPod-like applications… you get the idea. Anything you can think of that seems similar to an Apple-made app likely is considered just different enough to be approved.
Opera’s Partner Manager Phillip Grønvold told Wired;
There are two reasons why we are confident that Opera Mini will met [sic] the requirements of the App Store…
One, our compression technology imposes limitations on what the browser can do — Opera doesn’t render rich, content-heavy documents like Safari does.
Two, Opera Mini does not actually render HTML on the device, it uses a custom binary representation of the website. We believe these technical differences make Opera Mini sufficiently different to Safari to be made available on the App Store.
So, let’s get this straight; the Opera Mini web browser doesn’t actually render HTML? Web pages are converted from HTML into some other markup (compatible only with Opera Mini) and then the ‘browser’ delivers a sub-par browsing experience? Presumably that’s what Grønvold means when he says Opera Mini ‘…doesn’t render rich, content-heavy documents’. It renders something less than you’d get normally. But, according to Wired’s Michael Conroy, it is fast. So, I guess that’s something. But… it’s something less than you’d normally get. It’s just a thought, but, wasn’t that the problem with phones before the iPhone? They delivered less than the best? I’m just saying…
With this in mind, the question shouldn’t really be “will Apple approve it” but rather, should we care about it in the first place?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never considered Mobile Safari unacceptably slow. My Internet connection has sometimes been slow, but that’s not the fault of Mobile Safari — which dutifully renders what it can, when it can. And you know, even when my throughput is a bit meager, I’d rather wait the additional seconds for the full-quality I’ve come to expect from Mobile Safari. Otherwise, what’s the point in owning an iPhone, if I’m only going to use apps that deliver pre-iPhone results?
And, while I’m on the subject of connectivity; in areas where my coverage is very limited and my iPhone can barely hold on to a simple GPRS signal, I simply don’t bother surfing the web. It’s an exercise in frustration. A hyper-optimised, super-fast alternative browser might seem like an attractive solution to someone who often finds themselves with limited throughput, but really, wouldn’t most people just wait until they get a stronger signal? Or, even better, access to a Wi-Fi network?
I know I haven’t tried it yet, I’m going by what Grønvold showed-off at the MWC — but I just don’t see that it offers much in the way of utility and quality. Fart apps and Bikini apps also don’t offer much in the way of utility and quality… but look at what’s happening to them…
So, will Apple approve Opera Mini? I doubt it. It doesn’t matter that it renders web pages in some special way, it’s still a browser.
That won’t stop the wider tech press turning this into something it’s not. If it is approved, there’ll be talk of how it signifies this or indicates that and someone will claim this in some way ‘proves’ Apple and its iPhone are losing their sparkle… Walt Mosspuppet (the only technology journalist in the world) has this to say on the (unlikely) possibility of Apple approving Opera Mini;
…it would be great if their app makes it onto the store. After all, there are all sorts of big bets I win once I can show evidence that Hell’s frozen over, and Apple allowing another browser on the iPhone might just do it.
If (and when) Opera Mini doesn’t get approved, Apple will be criticized for… well, all the usual. Just fill in the blanks yourself, you know the words to this song by now. Ultimately, some kind of drama will be invented. It always is.
Do you want a different browser on the iPhone? And if you do, is Opera Mini the replacement you’ve been waiting for? Why? For goodness’ sake, why! Get sharing in the comments below.