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):