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So Opera Mini Is Now on the iPhone — So What?

Opera yesterday accomplished something many thought would never happen: Its Opera Mini 5 browser was approved for sale in the iTunes App Store. The popular browser boasts more than 50 million users worldwide thanks to several key features: fast browsing speeds, a tabbed interface and Opera Link, which synchronizes user bookmarks from Opera on a desktop. In other words, owners of iPhone OS (s aapl) devices now have a viable alternative when it comes to surfing the web on their handset, iPod touch or iPad. But how many people will actually use it?

Opera Mini brings a desktop-like browsing experience to feature phones that don’t already offer one. Thanks to the server-side compression — Opera serves up pages it optimizes on the fly — using Opera Mini is fast and uses less wireless bandwidth than native browsers. If you have a feature phone with a marginal browser or you’re watching your data usage, Opera Mini is a boon. But do iPhone users fit into either of those categories?

To find out, I installed Opera Mini for iPhone last night and took the browser for a spin. It’s fast — faster than Safari, in most cases. But unlike on other mobile devices, I didn’t have anything close to a desktop-like experience with it. And overall, I spent more time trying to get at information on the web, not less, as the fast loading and rendering speeds were negated by unreadable text. Essentially, I had to zoom in to read any text at all, and it was so small that most of the time I didn’t even know what I was tapping. Plus, it’s a scroll-fest to navigate. The comparison screen caps below illustrate the visual challenges, but let’s just say I was left convinced that devices running the iPhone OS don’t need Opera Mini.

The iPhone’s native Safari browser is already optimized for a high-quality mobile browsing experience. The same unreadable sites in full screen on Opera Mini are quite readable in Safari (see below). Safari may render more slowly, but you spend far less time guessing at what you want to tap, and in many cases, you don’t need to zoom at all.

Make no mistake: Apple allowing an alternative browser is important and it’s a coup of sorts for the Opera team to get a second browser on the iPhone OS. But Opera Mini’s greatest strength — offering a solid browsing experience on devices that are incapable of delivering the mobile web — is diluted on the iPhone, which already provides a capable web experience. Some will adopt Opera Mini on their iPhone for speed and throughput savings, but I don’t think Opera’s victory will equate to more than a historical footnote when it comes to most everyday iPhone users.

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15 Responses to “So Opera Mini Is Now on the iPhone — So What?”

  1. Just tried Opera Mini. I find it very encouraging!

    Yes, it has some issue with zooming. But it beats the crap out of Safari in terms of better caching. One of the most frustrating problem with Safari its inability to cache almost anything. You can start with a news main page, click on a story, wait for it to fetch, read it, then click the back button. Very often Safari have to it re-fetch the main page again!!! Taking many seconds on a 3G. With Opera Mini, going back and fro from story page and the main page is totally smooth. Tabbed browsing on Safari is a joke. I often have 2 pages open. Hoping that while one is fetching, I’ll switch to read the other that is loaded. No luck, most of the time page switching trigger a re-fetch, render my 2 page scheme useless. On Opera Mini it just works! For those who have 3GS, things might work better for you. But for me with 3G phone Opera Mini just feels much smoother.

    I’m surprise that Opera does not have a better zooming, given they have been working on mobile browser for a long time. I hope this will be fixed soon.

  2. I’m sure everyone is keeping in mind that Opera Mini has only been in production on this platform for less than a day. I’m sure everyone is also taking into account that Mobile Safari has had 3 years to mature when comparing the two.

    I’m actually very pleased with Opera Mini on the iPhone. The “cons” people are mentioning are minor for something that was just released. Safari Mobile for all of it’s optimizations people have mentioned chokes on most every full website that contains most any JavaScript. It’s tabbed browsing is nothing more than bookmarks with thumbnails.

    If Opera Mini achieves a better user experience utilizing server-side processing, I call that progress. The end result is what matters to me.

  3. I have to agree with Kevin. And would like to add that using Opera Mini on the iPhone restricts the how far you can zoom in on an object. There are only 2 modes, fast rendering which as the author states gives you an unreadable website, then zoom to read. In Safari you can zoom in and out much more. Also, using copy & paste in the Opera Mini is a bit painful as the snap grids are not as intelligent as in Safari. I’ll keep using Opera Mini as it’s fun and new on the iPhone, but I know I’ll go back to Safari after awhile.

    • hadoualex

      Yes you are correct, but all of those browser were based on Safari engine. While Opera is a totally different beast, by the engine it uses to render pages, the big question is why would Apple allow it? Right, because we have come to believe that Apple wants to control everything that their products do, and to certain extend that is correct yet that is not the whole story.

      By allowing restrictions on their products Apple was able to engineer an ecosystem that was fast, useful, and just worked. Knowing that their target audience, consumers and not geeks, led them to success and eventually to open up to the idea of apps (for profit). Now that the paradigm shift from the web to apps is happening just ask yourself what do you prefer to use for twitter, rss, aim, mail, etc? apps or the web in a portable system. Obvious answer, now comes the next phase of evolution. Apple cares about profit therefore where do they stand to make more money? is quiet obvious that Apple wants the advertising money from Google and therefore the announcement of ads in apps. Knowing that the shift from the web to apps represents another avenue for higher profit, then it makes sense for Apple to be less worried about Opera’s Mini & Adobe’s flash, and more about Google.

      Apple is not going to lose any profit from Opera running in the Iphone OS and therefore don’t care as much if at all. What they do care and are after is the advertising profits. Why do I say this? simple is Steve Jobs moto: wait for the right elements to align before riding the wave, ultimately what we are seeing is The evolution of Apple so don’t take anything to be in stone because no real corporation ever does even if they say so.

  4. Kevin, I used opera mini on WinMo 6.1. Its good browser for feature phones not for smartphones. Why did Apple allow this ? May be to show the world that they are not a closed system. Personally I would like to see SkyFire on iPhone. That would help iPhone users to view flash videos.

    • Yup, I used it on Windows Mobile device as well, mainly because the native browser was less than optimal. But arguably, that’s not the case with Safari on the iPhone. You could be right — Apple possibly allowed it to show some openness. One could even argue it did so in a low-risk situation — where allowing it would only make their own native browser look better by comparison to some.

  5. Scottix

    From what I understand. Its not technically a browser. Although that is the intended use. The reason it is so fast is because the rendering is done on Opera’s servers (which is scary). So the mini browser is just a portal app is what you could say about it. Also leads to privacy issues I believe. I would tell people to be weary.

    • Correct, Opera servers act as a “middle-man” to compress and serve up web pages, which makes it fast. But as you mention, some aren’t comfortable that Opera then gains information about the pages you surf, much like Google does for every search using their engine.