GigaOM Interview: Opera CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner

We met with Jon S. von Tetzchner, the CEO of Opera software, and Tatsuki Tomita, senior VP of consumer products at Opera, yesterday and talked about the company’s mobile browser platforms, how it sizes up against the competition and where web browsers are headed. Read on for some of the best bits of our conversation, below.

What’s new for the company right now?
JvT: The market is moving in our direction very, very clearly. As a company we’ve always had this idea that you access the same Internet from PCs and other devices. We’re having nice growth on the PC side and significant growth on the mobile side on devices — basically everything is growing…We’re the only company across the world that’s on everything.

But in terms of desktop market share don’t you still have a little under 1 percent?
JvT: No — the problem is the stats out there are very inaccurate and skewed toward markets where we’re not so strong. We have markets where we’re less than 1 percent market share and then we have markets where we have 55 percent market share — countries like Russia and neighboring countries. In Eastern and Northern Europe, the market share is double digits, as it is in some Asian countries, like Indonesia. In mobile we’re the leading vendor worldwide.

How is Opera Mini helping that market growth?
JvT: It’s the most popular mobile product right now with end users. Opera Mini runs on the server and via a small client on the phone, but from the end-user perspective, it works like a local browser. It compresses the data significantly, 85 percent on average, which gives mobile device speeds matching those of Wi-Fi. People are flocking to Mini in huge volumes — last month we had 19 million active users, not including OEM versions of the software, which we don’t track.

How is growth in emerging markets helping the Mini?
JvT: Only 20 percent of world has Internet access but half the world has mobile access. More and more of those operators and OEMs are installing Mini for users for whom it’s not about another way to get on the Internet, it’s the way.

What’s the breakdown of the rest of your user base?
JvT:
For desktop, the last official number was between 25 million and 30 million users. I’m not able to give any numbers for Wii [Internet Channel]! There’s a long list of different devices we’re shipping on, in the millions, like Sony and Philips TVs.

How has the emergence of WebKit and Chrome changed the market for you?
JvT:
The effect of Chrome so far has been 20 percent more downloads every day. It’s fairly logical when you think about it, because the biggest hurdle we have is all those people that don’t realize there’s an alternative in the market. Now, with the launch of Chrome there’s focus on the choice of browsers in the market.

Theoretically [WebKit] can be used to develop other browsers, but that’s not a trivial thing to do. There’s a fair amount of Mozilla-code-based browsers, but there’s only one that has success, and that’s the one controlled by Mozilla.

How is the global downturn impacting your business?
JvT:
People are not going to stop using the Internet. We’re at the very early stages of Internet access in mobile, and that’s going to explode in the next few years, independent of any economic downturn. With our software, you don’t need to get the latest, shiniest model of phone, you don’t need to the 3G or 4G network to browse.

What are some of the new devices you see down the road?
JvT: Any device that could potentially be connected to the Internet would benefit from a browser, including special devices like barcode readers [for inventory management] on a closed network, or set-top boxes.

What’s next for Opera?
JvT and TT: The browser has been evolving into an engine for running applications, which benefits designers, because mobile side platform fragmentation is going to have a big impact on mobile devices. We also have a beta version of Dragonfly developer tools available for Opera 9.5 and above that lets developers debug remotely, via the web.

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