The iPhone’s effect on the mobile Internet is over-rated, says Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner. What the whole world needs is a browser that can span from PCs down to the old and simple phones
Opera sees a bigger picture than the kind of web browsing done on the iPhone, said von Tetzchner. “iPhones are only one percent of the phones in the world and that leaves 99 percent. We have a job to do to get the word out that you can browse on your old phone.”
History of Opera
“Opera is the oldest independent browser,” said von Tetzchner. Originally developed in 1994 for the Norwegian phone compnay Telenor, by him and Geir Ivarsay, it was spun out into its own company in 1995, and released to the public in 1996. That means it was competing with Mosaic/Netscape and early versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer
Fifteen years on, Opera the company, is based in Oslo, and employs 700 people. Opera is on a surprising number of desktops, given the fact that Net Applications’ widely cited browser market share figures give Opera 0.68 percent of web usage, placing it sixth. There are now 40 million active Opera installations on desktops or laptops, said von Tetzchner – “and by active I mean installations that regularly check for downloads. That’s the most accurate measure I know.”
How many of those use Opera actively as their main browser is a question – “Our market share varies by country,” he said. “It’s low in the US, but it’s 30 to 40 percent in some countries.” And Opera users tend to be fans, because of issues like security: “Look at the Secunia security site,” he said. “We we have zero open issues.”
It’s on mobile devices and embedded systems that Opera comes into its own, of course – and makes its money. It’s been on mobile systems since 1999, and von Tetzchner emphasised its broad platform support: “We’re number one on all devices,” he said. “We’re on televisions set-top-boxes, photoframes, bar code readers and media players.”
There are two main versions: Opera Mobile is a full browser, and Opera Mini is a clever client/server version, which runs the browser on Opera servers and speaks to a small agent on the phone using greatly reduced network traffic: “That’s on many phones,” he said, “For instance, it’s pre-installed on Nokia S40 phones. It compresses the data on the server side for speedy browsing on slow connections.”
Operators pay to have Opera Mobile and Mini bundled in their systems, and pay for the client/server service used by Opera Mini.
Opera Mini is very active, he says, and the client/server model means opera can tell just how well used it is: “We had 23 million active users in March, who browsed an average of 360 pages. At more than ten pages a day, that’s very active for mobile Web users. I would bet that’s higher than iPhones.”
Why do a desktop browser at all?
With all that going on, why stick with the desktop version? “We believe in one Web,” he said. “You must do things across all devices – and you can’t do a good mobile browser without basing it on the desktop.”One Web means mobile users should not have to enter a different address (say http://m.company.com) for mobile content- though it’s OK for the site to sniff the device and offer it better formatted information, he said.