Opera Planning To Add Mini Browser To iPhone Store

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Opera Software plans on releasing Opera Mini for the iPhone as an App Store application, according to the company’s co-founder

Opera Software expects that Apple will allow Opera Mini onto the iPhone, co-founder Jon von Tetzschner told eWEEK in a 19 March interview, and plans to release the browser through the App Store at an unannounced point in the near future.

“Our expectation is that Apple will allow it,” von Tetzschner said. “Why will they block ours?”

Posting Opera Mini as a free mobile application, von Tetzschner added, was deemed by Opera to be the only route for distributing the browser to as many iPhone users as possible; offering it as a free download from the Opera site would only make it available to jailbroken iPhones, which would come with its own set of issues.

When asked for a specific release date, von Tetzschner would only allow that it was coming “pretty soon”.

Opera Mini for iPhone will compensate for the device’s lack of multitasking by allowing users to instantly return to their last-accessed Web page, fully intact, after exiting and then restarting the browser. Otherwise, the user interface is a virtual carbon copy of the versions available for other smartphones. Given the focus on loading pages quickly, Opera Mini for iPhone lacks Adobe Flash support for loading rich content from certain Websites.

Opera has lately been focused on disseminating its mobile offerings to as many smartphones as possible. On 11 March, Opera released a beta of Opera Mini 5 for Google Android, a week after the company announced that it would release the same application for Windows Mobile 5.x and 6.x smartphones.

“Windows Mobile deserves a mobile browser that looks better, handles better, and delivers better than the default browser,” Dag Olav Norem, Opera’s vice president of products, wrote in a 4 March statement accompanying the release of Opera Mini 5 beta for Windows Mobile. “We are pleased to offer the world’s most popular mobile Web browser as a native Windows Mobile application.”

Common features across all versions of Opera’s mobile browser include tabbed browsing, a focus on increased speed and 90 percent data compression. Von Tetzschner claims that Opera’s desktop-based and mobile browsers have between 120 and 150 million active users worldwide—”all those numbers go through our servers”—and that a strong base for the software exists in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. That geographical orientation, he adds, results in Opera being undercounted by many analysis firms, which tend to take their samples for browser market share from Western Europe and North America.

According to analytics company StatCounter, Opera Mini is currently the most-used smartphone browser, with 24.6 percent of the market, in contrast to Apple’s Safari browser for the iPhone with 22.3 percent. If both the iPhone and the iPod Touch are included in those calculations, Apple’s share rises to 37.2 percent. Opera has said previously that Opera Mini has around 50 million active users.

Opera is still concentrating on the desktop market, however, with releases such as February’s Opera 10.50 for Windows, which the company touted as “the fastest browser ever.” That version of the browser includes a Carakan JavaScript engine that supposedly runs applications eight times faster than the previous version, along with a new Vega graphics library. Other features include private browsing, the ability to use the search engine of choice directly in the address field and, for developers, support for HTML5 and CS 2.1 and a good portion of CSS 3. Opera is seeking to claim market share in the desktop arena from the leading competitors, including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.

Opera plans on having more to announce about Opera Mini during the CTIA conference in Las Vegas, which starts on 23 March and will see many mobile IT companies unveil their latest and greatest offerings.

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