Opera Brings Browser War to Smartphones

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Opera is one of the top five Web browsers in terms of global market share, but it is in fifth place and is definitely the most obscure of the five. The small Norway-based browser developer is making headlines these days, though--first as the main benefactor of the Microsoft browser ballot in Europe, and now trying to bring its mobile Web browser to the Apple iPhone.

Many business professionals are already familiar with the mini version of Opera whether they know it or not. The Opera Mini browser has received critical acclaim and praise from end users, and it comes as the default Web browser on a wide variety of mobile phones--but notably not on the iPhone.

A press release dated March 23, 2010 on the Opera Web site says "Opera Mini is the world's most popular mobile Web browser, famed for bringing the Web to nearly any mobile phone. Its speed, usability and navigation-friendly design have catapulted this browser onto more than 50 million mobile phones worldwide."

In October of 2008, a New York Times article claimed "Opera's engineers have developed a version of Opera Mini that can run on an Apple iPhone, but Apple won't let the company release it because it competes with Apple's own Safari browser." Almost two years later, Opera is ready to take another stab at competing on the iPhone.

The Opera press release declares "Opera Mini for iPhone was officially submitted to the Apple iPhone App store today. A select few first saw it at Mobile World Congress 2010 in February. Now, the "fast like a rocket" browser is taking its first big step towards giving users a new way to browse on the iPhone."

The question is--will Apple approve the app? It already rejected Opera's previous attempt. However, it is hard to ignore the parallels between Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer on Windows, and Apple bundling Safari on the iPhone. It seems like an unfair or monopolistic business practice for Apple to block competitors from developing for the popular iPhone.

Apple already drew intense regulatory scrutiny last year when it denied the Google Voice app from its app store. Apple--and other wireless service providers and smartphone manufacturers--are walking an increasingly thinner line between sound business strategy and potential antitrust accusations. The more technologies converge, the more app stores are going to have to contend with these sorts of issues.

iPhone users have reason to support approval of the Opera Mini app, though. As the Opera press release explains "Due to server-side rendering, Opera Mini compresses data by up to 90 percent before sending it to the phone, resulting in rapid page loading and more Web per MB for the end user."

As the browser war migrates to the mobile battlefront, other smartphone operating systems will have to contend with the same issue eventually. Windows Mobile uses a mobile version of Internet Explorer by default, but browser developers like Opera, and Mozilla (with its Fennec mobile browser) are bringing the fight to the smartphone platform (although Firefox announced it has ceased developing for Windows Phone 7) and competing for mobile browser market share.

Opera is small, but bold. The Opera Web browser is built for speed and Opera is not showing any sign of accepting its fifth place position without a fight.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW . You can follow him on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com .

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