Opera began hyping its iPhone browser in February, claiming that Opera Mini can load Web pages significantly faster than the iPhone’s native Safari browser, while cutting down on data use by 90 percent. Opera Mini has some other perks as well, such as a home screen filled with your favorite links and the ability to find text within a page.
It sounds like a great experience, but most iPhone users — save for some journalists and industry folks — won’t get to use it unless Apple gives the okay.
As Macworld’s Dan Frakes noted when Opera first announced the browser for iPhone, there are two reasons Apple might reject the app, along with reasons Opera Mini might slip by: It duplicates core functionality of the iPhone, and it’s not based on the Webkit engine, which all third-party browsers currently use to avoid Apple’s ban on apps that download and execute code.
A rejection for duplicate functionality is unlikely; the presence of other browsers show that Apple won’t reject Safari competitors outright. As for not using Webkit, Opera argues that its browser doesn’t download and execute code, because Opera has a server downloads content and processes scripts before sending the result to the user. Essentially, Opera Mini handles all of Apple’s no-nos in the cloud instead of on the phone proper. That’s what Opera says is behind the browser’s superior speed and data efficiency in the first place.
The result is a unique challenge for Apple. It’s not as if approving Opera Mini would open the door to all non-Webkit browsers, but at the very least it would invite some serious competition to mobile Safari into the App Store. Opera is daring Apple to do it.
I kind of like the offbeat theory Engadget proposed in February: Opera knows that Apple’s going to reject Opera Mini, and all the hype around the app is just a marketing stunt for the browser on other devices, such as Android and Blackberry phones. If that’s true, Apple can get its revenge by putting a Google Voice-like freeze on the app, “continuing to study” it for eternity.