Opera's Browser on the iPhone? How? Why?

Opera Mini earned a moral victory this week when Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) announced it would accept the alternative browser into the iPhone’s application store. Within a few hours of its release, the app rose to the No. 1 slot for iPhone downloads. (See Opera Mini Lands on App Store.)

Many users and media have raised the question of why the walled garden known as Apple would approve a competing browser, but Opera Software ASA co-founder and former CEO Jon von Tetzchner asks: Why not? He says Opera wasn’t worried about getting on board with Apple -- outside of a few technical questions, Apple didn’t put up a fight.

“I believe Apple should allow all applications in general, but given that they have their rules, we’ve made sure we don’t violate any,” von Tetzchner says.

Apple's developer agreement has traditionally blocked any alternative browser that wasn’t a derivative of Safari. Outside of browsers, Apple has been known to block any app that could pose a competitive threat. Its Mini browser, a more limited version of Opera Mobile, relies on server-side compression to optimize Web pages. That means it acts more like a document or PDF reader than a full-blown browser. Apple accepted Opera Mini because it doesn’t interpret codes in the way Safari does -- and likely because of the bad press following its past rejections.

Opera achieved another milestone this week as well, boasting more than 100 million total users worldwide, 50 million of whom use Opera Mini. It has quickly become the most popular mobile application in the world, von Tetzchner asserts, averaging half a million downloads per day, without the iPhone's help.

Von Tetzchner says the appeal is that Mini can enable fast mobile Web browsing by compressing data by up to 90 percent before sending any content to the device. This means pages load more quickly -- six times faster, he claims. This matters most on slower networks like AT&T’s 2G EDGE network that the first-generation iPhone relies on.

For AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the iPhone’s beleaguered mobile operator partner, the option of the Opera browser will only mean good things. Even if it doesn’t cause mass exodus from Safari, having more customers using data without overly taxing the network could mean fewer complaints about poor coverage.

"In other parts of the world, a lot of people are using iPhones and paying per megabit, and the same applies if you’re roaming,” von Tetzchner says. "With [Mini], you are not only getting a better user experience and saving your operator money, but you are saving yourself money. When you are paying by megabit, a [bandwidth] savings of 90 percent is significant.”

Opera prides itself on being available to all devices, whether they be feature or smartphones, PCs, TVs or the upcoming class of tablet devices, according to von Tetzchner. He says the Opera Mini iPhone implementation would be easy to port to the iPad, and -- while nothing is announced -- he "wouldn’t be surprised if an iPad version was launched as well."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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