Summary:

If you look at web browser usage, Opera is barely even worth mentioning. But look at mobile browsers and it’s arguably one of the fastest an…

Opera on mobile devices

If you look at web browser usage, Opera is barely even worth mentioning. But look at mobile browsers and it’s arguably one of the fastest and more innovative pieces of software for surfing the web on the go. Already a market leader in Russia, Africa and parts of Europe, Opera should be able to make a dent in the U.S. — but why hasn’t it?

Lack of awareness explains the blip. Opera hopes advertising and confidence will make up for it. They know the browser is a global mobile market leader and with the developing world snapping up mobile phones that browse the internet, Opera’s branded “mini” browser is powering this revolution. Also, with the $8 million purchase of California-based *AdMarvel* last year, the firm is in serious contention to have a viable ad platform for all of those web-browsing cell phones.

Its current marketshare among desktop users is an anemic 1.39 1.75 percent, according to StatCounter.com. Craig Buckler of Sitepoint.com says while the Opera browser has pioneered some features that later spread to other browsers — like the idea of tabs — most web users probably aren’t even aware of it. Opera’s main following is among tech geeks and web developers. “I use it as a secondary browser and I use it for testing and development,” says Buckler.

But the company appears to have more potential in a different browser market: the mobile one. While its desktop share is tiny, its mobile offerings dominate the global market with a 22.81 percent share, according to StatCounter.com’s GlobalStats. That figure combines its two mobile browser products — Opera Mini 6.1, which is used mostly in low-end flip phones, and its Opera Mobile 11.1, the version used on many smartphones and tablets. The company, which released new versions of both mobile browsers last week, says it has deals with AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon and Sprint (NYSE: S) to install its browsers on some phones offered by those providers. The rest of the global mobile browser market shakes out like this: Android at 17.01 percent, iPhone with 16.71 percent, and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) at 16.05 percent.

Opera’s fast mobile browser crunches user data: One feature that makes the Opera browser popular with mobile users, particularly people on limited data plans, is its use of compression technology to crunch data. That technology shrinks webpages by 90 percent before loading them onto the phone, which reduces the data used by the consumer. Opera hopes to capitalize on some of its global reach by dipping into mobile advertising with its *AdMarvel* acquisition. One selling point for advertisers of the compression technology: Opera’s servers capture user data during the process. That data is then used when Opera brokers deals on its ad platform, Opera Open Mobile Ad Exchange.

The Opera Mini browser not only has a faster load time, its proxy browsing technology is easier on data consumption, which should appeal to iPhone users, especially those who subscribe to a Verizon plan. Verizon confirmed this week that it will halt unlimited data plans, and instead offer users between 2 and 10 GB per month beginning today. Design and portability are another attraction, as PCWorld.com points out. Opera Mobile has a Turbo feature, which handles like the Opera Mini. Users may find Opera Mini a good choice for iPhone because of its text-wrapping feature, which makes reading webpages on your handheld a little easier. A desktop-to-mobile-browser sync mode keeps everything consistent.

Aiming for half billion: “We are aiming at 500 million users by 2013, and we have a very positive flow right now, ” Opera CEO Lars Boilesen said in a statement. The company currently has about 200 million users, which includes the desktop version as well as Opera Mini and Opera Mobile. The company’s desktop browser currently generates about 34 percent of overall Opera Software (OSL: OPERA) revenue through search engine revenue share partnerships with Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), eBay (NSDQ: EBAY) and Russia’s search engine Yandex. The Opera browser is also in television sets like the Sony (NYSE: SNE) Bravia, due soon in the U.S. And it has had a longtime partnership with the Nintendo Wii, which allows users to surf the web.

Boilesen had announced the company’s aspirations shortly after former CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner’s departure. Von Tetzchner resigned from his post in early 2010 but until this week, had stayed on as an adviser.

Emerging markets lean toward Opera: While Opera can’t compete in the desktop market with the triumvirate of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it appears to better situated on the mobile side. Opera Mini has a strong position in the global mobile browser market primarily because of its foothold in emerging markets. Although smartphones are gaining ground over low-end phones, they are still not dominating huge markets such as Russia and India, where there is still strong demand for $30 to $50 feature phones, says financial analyst Arild Nysaether, who follows Opera Software for Norway’s Fondsfinans. He says it’ll be a long time before smartphones come meet that price point. Opera has a 66.02 percent share of the Russian market and 56.81 percent of India’s, according to StatCounter. Its share in Africa markets pushes up to 72.22 percent.

Nysaether says more than 90 percent of the world’s mobile phones aren’t capable of running a full browser. Opera Mini, he says, brings the HTML experience to the masses. “The global mobile population is about 3 billion to 4 billion users, and the smartphone share is about 20 percent of the existing base,” says Nysaether. Opera will continue to dominate globally as long as there’s worldwide demand for internet-ready feature phones.

Safari Mobile: Apple’s browser for the iPhone. It recently got revved up with Nitro JavaScript, which speeds up the processing of web pages.
Dolphin HD: A flash-supporting Android browser from Mobotap, Inc that can sync with your Google bookmarks. It has some unique features that includes the ability to view the desktop browser version of websites.
Skyfire: This browser for Android and iOs phones is said to be an ideal option for tiered data plans. The “Instant Optimization” video process crunches data by 75 percent when users view mobile video content.
Firefox Home: This cross-platform Mozilla browser has a sync feature to carry your browser links and history from desktop to mobile. New add-on protects user privacy with Clear Mobile History and Cleary.

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