Why Did Opera Mini 5 Just Go Native on Windows Mobile?

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Long a staple on feature phones and smartphones alike, Opera Mini is now going to a destination that others seem to be leaving. While software developers like Adobe and Skype are focusing on Windows Phone 7 devices, Opera is staying alive and well with Microsoft’s current mobile operating system. The snappy little browser already supported Windows Mobile devices, but only those that include a Java ME client. Opera today announced a native, full-featured Opera Mini client for Windows Mobile 5 and 6 handsets.

“The Opera Mini 5 beta for Windows Mobile includes the same rich feature set as the Java-based version. Renowned features, including tabbed browsing, the password manager, bookmarks and Speed Dial, are built-in to deliver convenience while on-the-go.

One of Opera Mini’s major benefits is that it compresses data traffic by up to 90 percent, resulting in significantly improved page-loading and speed. This results in a dramatically reduced data load, which can translate to lower browsing costs when on a pay-per-MB data plan or when on expensive roaming.”

Like the Java version, the native Opera Mini 5 is freely available, but it does have a beta tag — beta 2 to be precise. I doubt that will hold back many from the download. I don’t know too many Windows Mobile 5 or 6 device owners who aren’t looking for a better browsing experience, when possible.

Not familiar with Opera Mini 5 because your phone doesn’t have a Java ME client? Have a look-see at how well Opera Mini 5 works. Since Opera is serving up compressed versions of the web through their servers — a privacy concern to some — it generally runs fast. And it shares many features with its big brothers — tabbed browsing, speed dial, bookmark synchronization with the desktop, and a password manager.

Why would Opera build a native version for older Windows Mobile devices when others appear focused on future handsets? The number of pages served up through Opera Mini continues to increase into the tens of billions each month, and some of that growth has come through carrier distribution deals. Those types of arrangements can add to the Opera Mini crowd, but by supporting more existing devices, it’s an easy win. There are no negotiations with carriers or handset makers — just the approach of building a solid product that appeals to a wider audience.

The browser already has over 50 million users, but there’s also millions of Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices still untapped prior to today. Yes, there’s a fair number of Apple iPhone users too, but I’m not holding my breath that this version of Opera Mini will get through the App Store. With direct downloads to Windows Mobile handsets, Opera doesn’t have the same worry — they can just make the browser available for Windows Mobile. Owners of those devices certainly need to find things on the web, so more points of presence mean more searches. Google has been the default search engine on Opera for just over two years as part of a deal between Opera and the search giant. You don’t think Opera chooses to use Google for free, do you?

If you’d rather take a test-drive of Opera Mini 5 beta 2 instead of installing it, you can try it in a simulator. You’ll need Java installed on your computer though — go figure.

Image courtesy of Opera

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Mobile Sites Show Little Improvement

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