Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Opera Steps Up Browser Battle On Android

Information Week

As promised, Opera Software has made a beta version of its Opera Mobile 10.1 web browser available for Google's Android platform.

Opera announced its intent to offer Opera Mobile 10.1 to Android in October. On Tuesday, it delivered, making the free application available for download from the Android Market. Opera's full-featured Opera Mobile browser is already available for the Symbian and Windows Mobile platforms.

Opera Mini is already available to Android, but Opera Mobile is an entirely new ballgame. The key difference between Opera Mini and Opera Mobile is that Opera Mini uses server-side proxies to compress and deliver web sites to mobile handsets. The data compression helps to reduce mobile data requirements and saves both customers and mobile network operators money.

Opera Mobile, on the other hand, is a full, device-side browser that does all the heavy lifting on the handset and not on remote servers.

Opera Mobile for Android brings two major features to the browser. First is hardware acceleration. With hardware acceleration baked into Opera Mobile, the browser should see a performance boost. Opera Mobile also includes pinch-to-zoom. Pinch-to-zoom has become a must-have feature for smartphones, as it makes interacting with web-based content easier and more manageable. Pinch-to-zoom is offered in the native Android browser, as well as the iOS and BB6 browsers.

Other features included in the new browser include support for tabbed browsing; Opera Turbo powered by the Opera Presto rendering engine; bookmark syncing with desktop browsers; geolocation support; and scalable vector graphics.

I downloaded and tested the new browser this morning. True to its claims, Opera Mobile performs well, and renders full HTML web sites nicely. It loaded the full web site, though the text was so small as to be illegible. I was forced to zoom in to read anything beyond the main headlines. I was disappointed to see that Opera Mobile skipped to the mobile version of, however. The pinch-to-zoom gesture worked flawlessly, and zooming around web sites was not a problem at all. Everything about the browser's performance was smooth and speedy.

One thing of note, Opera Mobile does not support Flash. Several times I was greeted by "Oops, we're sorry" messages on web sites pointing out the browser's inability to playback Flash content. Opera says that Flash will be included in a future version of Opera Mobile.

Opera has a tough road ahead if it is interested in converting Android users. The stock Android browser is already very good, and there are a number of alternatives available, such as Skyfire, Dolphin HD, and Firefox. What's to convince the common Android users to switch? Perhaps tie-ins with Opera's desktop browser, as well as its desktop-phone syncing services.