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Will Apple Open the Window for Opera's iPhone Serenade?

Will Apple Open the Window for Opera's iPhone Serenade?

Opera will soon demo a version of its Mini Web browser that can theoretically run on iPhones. Apple has let third-party browsers sell in its App Store in the past, but only if they're built on the same WebKit Web browser engine that Safari uses. Opera says it's confident that it'll win Apple's approval, but if it doesn't, will it go to jailbroken app sellers? Not likely, said 451 Group's Chris Hazelton.

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
02/10/10 12:02 PM PT

Opera on Wednesday announced that it will preview a version of Opera Mini 5 for the iPhone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, next week.

Perhaps Opera, which already makes a popular line of mobile browsers for several other phone platforms, wants to increase its reach by leveraging the iPhone's rapid growth.

Opera claims its Mini 5 browser, which is in beta, is much faster than other mobile browsers and has several features more often found on desktop PC browsers.

However, that may not help it get onto the iPhone, as Apple currently only accepts third-party browsers that use the same WebKit Web browser engine that Safari, Apple's home-grown browser, uses.

What's Playing?

Opera Mini 5 is currently in beta. Features include tabbed browsing, which lets users browse several Web sites simultaneously; Speed Dial, offering one-click access to a user's favorite Web pages; Opera Link, which synchronizes bookmarks and Speed Dial between the user's mobile phone and desktop computer; and Download Manager, which manages downloads from the browser.

Opera Mini compresses pages by up to 90 percent before sending them to the phone, resulting in faster page-load times than in other mobile Web browsers, according to Opera. For users that pay by the bit, this can also cut costs; iPhone users, however, are generally required to buy an unlimited data plan.

Other features include Mobile View, which intelligently reformats Web pages into a single column so users don't have to pan horizontally; and Password Manager, which remembers users' credentials, letting them access their favorite Web sites without having to always enter their user names and passwords.

"Opera has a great browser and offers a great experience," Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst at IDC, told MacNewsWorld.

In addition to previewing Mini 5 on the iPhone, Opera will preview the mobile browser on other handsets and platforms. It will also host several other previews at the Mobile World Congress, such as showing off its beta version of Opera Mobile 10 on handsets running Symbian S60, Windows Mobile and Android.

An Opera Intermezzo?

It's uncertain how successful Opera may be in getting its browser approved for distribution on the official iTunes App Store. After initially banning all third-party browsers from its store, Apple finally relented and approved browsers based on WebKit. Among these are Edge Browser, Incognito, WebMate: Tabbed Browser and Shaking Web. However, these are more or less the same as the built-in Safari browser, only with a few tweaks.

However, that WebKit requirement doesn't necessarily mean Apple might not consider Opera Mini 5. "Apple's the gatekeeper and doesn't like to have anything competing with its own software or partners," Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst at IDC, told MacNewsWorld. "On the other hand, Apple's always looking to improve the experience on its devices, so it may look at Opera."

Opera appears confident, if only to bolster its chances. "We see no reason why Opera Mini 5 will be rejected by Apple's App Store," company spokesperson Falguni Bhuta told MacNewsWorld. "We hope that Apple will not deny its users a choice when it comes to mobile browsing."

Opera and WebKit overlap in a way, because they both implement HTML5 features that add native support for embedding video and audio content in Web pages. These features also provide a rich scripting API for controlling playback.

If Not iTunes, What?

If the duplication of HTML 5 features leads Apple to reject Opera Mini 5, what choices does Opera have? None, according to Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group.

"Opera has no other option if Apple does not approve it for the App Store," Hazelton told MacNewsWorld. Software makers have sometimes turned to markets like Cydia in order to sell iPhone software. These sites provide apps that can be used on jailbroken iPhones -- devices that have been hacked to accept software that hasn't been approved by Apple. Opera, however, will probably not take that route, Hazelton said.

"In addition to end users, Opera's customers are mobile device vendors and carriers," Hazelton pointed out. "These are also its channel partners, and Opera cannot push a device vendor too hard by working with the gray market."


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