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Summary:

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 […]

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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.

  1. It’s all about speed. Thanks to AT&T’s 3G coverage, not every iphone gets decent connection speed. Safari, which renders everything, is just too much. Most of the time when we use phone to browse the internet, we are looking for some particular information on the web. We don’t really care about the “full HTML experience”. It’s all about getting the right information in a small amount of time. Opera does just that. Besides, it’s always good to have competition.

    Maybe you don’t care about Opera on iPhone, but I am pretty sure a lot of people do. And I mean a lot.

    1. I agree 100% with MX

      its the same reason why people use Opera regularly, because its faster (yes, opera 10.50 for the computer is the fastest web browser out there, as it has the fastest java engine and it can automatically compress data when your connection is slow so that the data gets too you faster).

      remember, not only is Opera’s browser faster, but it is physically sending you less data, and thereby meaning you need a smaller data plan in order to get the same amount of data (in Opera on the computer I’ve seen up to 400x compression, although it usually sits around 10-20x for me when I need it)

  2. This article is kind of garbage. There’s a lot of room for another browser on the iPhone.

    “…and then the ‘browser’ delivers a sub-par browsing experience?”

    Opera’s server-side compression technology is great for times when bandwidth is limited. Having full web pages is great at times, but to be honest, at least in my case, 95% of my internet browsing on my iPhone is reading text. Having something that will give me what I’m looking for, while rendering it quicker AND using less data? That’s exactly what I want when I’m mobile.

    Also, the iPhone already delivers a sub-par browsing experience. The phone isn’t a good fit for many pages without a lot of scrolling (unless they’re specific sites designed for the iPhone), and it doesn’t do Flash. Argue all you want, but while the iPhone certainly has one of the best mobile browsers ever, it still doesn’t hold a candle to a desktop browsing experience.

    Lastly, Mobile Safari can choke on Javascript, and there’s a chance that Opera Mini may outperform it. So that would be great for someone like me who uses some websites with extensive javascript.

    “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.”

    And cheese is cheese. There are some very fundamental mechanical differences that make it very different from Mobile Safari. Funny how there are still camera apps, still music apps, and plenty of other applications that expand on the iPhone’s features. If Opera Mini doesn’t get approved, then there’s good reason for more clamoring about Apple’s application approval process.

    “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…”

    You’re comparing a major company’s web-browsing application that contains some actual valid improvements over the current default browser on the iPhone to a soundboard and picture gallery? This must be a troll…

    Really, this article is horribly written. It’s complete editorial with so few facts I question of the author even knows anything about what they’re writing. I hope this isn’t an indication of what we can expect from TAB.

    Why don’t you compare the two applications, share the features and merits of each, and then give your opinion on why one is unneeded instead of omitting facts and just trying to ram an opinion through.

  3. It offers as you yourself comment, a way to surf the web without it being a exercise in frustration in areas with poor reception. Why would you wanna wait until you have better reception? What if you are to stay at this place with poor reception for a while? What if youre paying for data download, this will cost alot less.

    Clearly having a option where server side does the heavy lifting in bandwith and computationial power is a good thing.

    Its a innovative app, and having more stuff done in “the cloud” not relying so much on awesome power and bandwidth on the user side might very well prove to be the way of the future.

    Most importantly, i hope Apple will give us the freedom of choice and silence some of the critics, if they deny this app, they deserve to be critised for it.

  4. Wow, Opera’s got the kind of cynicism I haven’t seen since Apple, circa 2000.

    Meanwhile, Apple’s got the kind of hubris I haven’t seen since Microsoft, 2000.

  5. Gruber does a great job explaining Opera Mini: http://daringfireball.net/2008/11/opera_app_store

    Taken from his article:

    “In a nut, it works like this: You request a URL in Opera Mini. Opera Mini makes the request to a proxy server run by Opera. Opera’s proxy server connects to the web server hosting the requested URL, and renders the page into an image. This image is then transmitted (in a proprietary format called OBML — Opera Binary Markup Language) to the Opera Mini client. Opera Mini displays the rendered image on screen. This may sound convoluted, but apparently the result is very effective — it’s faster to transmit, because only OBML (a compressed binary format) is transmitted to the mobile device over the phone network, and far faster to render on slow mobile processors.”

    Seems like a pretty good idea for earlier iPhones or people with spotty connections.

    1. it not only works well for phones, it also works well for top of the line computers.

  6. I for one look forward to this. I don’t browse the web on my iPhone specifically because it’s so slow. It shouldn’t be, the network in my area is consistently putting out near 2 mbps, but it definitely takes Safari a long time to download and render a page. If I can do that 5 times faster, then hell yeah, I’ll be using it.

    “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?”

    Why should it need to render straight HTML? You’re not writing the HTML locally, so it’s unnecessary. The server is consuming it and sending out a binary, which is what most people want. I don’t get where you’re assuming you’ll have a “sub-par” experience. JavaScript and images still work… you’re only missing Flash, which hey Safari doesn’t support either.

    People may not care about Opera on the desktop, but Opera Mini is quite successful.

  7. Well, what I can’t figure out is why Opera thinks they have a chance with Opera Mini on the iPhone. Everybody knows that Mobile Safari is FAR superior, so why are they even trying?

    1. actually, safari ISN’T superiour.

      the picture quality is slightly better in safari, but you’re looking for speed (which Opera provides, and quite well I might add), not picture quality when your browsing with your phone.

    2. Sarafi FAR superior means epic browser fail?
      opera seems to be the best browser for mobiles…deal with it

  8. This is such a whingey, content-less, fanboy post. If I wanted to read this sort of drivel then I’d go to a gaming forum.

    1. Also, in regards to George’s post, I was a very happy user of Opera Mini on my old nokia symbian phone – it was so completely ahead of the built-in nokia browser that it made the nokia browser completely unusable after you realised how much better opera mini was.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably never use opera mini on my iphone, but anyone that can write an article this charged about something that hasn’t even been released is an idiot, and I resent having it pushed through my feed reader

    2. Next time you don’t like an article or it upsets you so much, why not just try skipping it?

    3. This is generally what i do, but there comes a point where a site’s content becomes so value-less that reading it becomes a chore and it becomes easier to just unsubscribe.

      I’d rather not do that because TAB sometimes has good, interesting articles, from authors that can write. There are numerous occasions during the last couple of months that I’ve had my cursor over the unsubscribe button, but have always thought ‘no, the content will get better and I might miss out on something interesting’, but sadly it appears that this is not the case. I don’t usually write in with these kinds of comments, knowing that the authors aren’t likely to care about their readership, but judging by the comments above and below, it would appear that a large chunk of the readership isn’t the kind of childish apple fanboy that it is treated as.

  9. I do care, and many other people too. Why? because Opera has always been one step ahead every other browser, know what? Safari didn’t invent “Top Sites”, Opera did invent “Speed dial”, and tab-browsing…
    I’m looking forward to Opera mini, as this guys have always made a great job and I would like to have a browser on my iPod Touch that doesn’t hang when I’m trying to add a new bookmark

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