Opera Debuts on iPhone

Opera has become the first rival browser to Safari to appear on the iPhone and iPod touch. The app was approved last night and is already available for download.

It’s something of a surprise that Apple would give the thumbs up to Opera. While the iTunes App Store approval process has often seemed close to random, one constant was that the firm turned down anything which could be argued to replicate a feature offered by Apple itself.

As far as the specs go, Opera (or rather Opera Mini) has some notable advantages: it allows searching within a web page, saving of pages, and turning off images to increase load speed (and cut mobile data use). In theory, too, it also works quicker than Safari as the system compresses pages on the server and only the “lighter” version is sent to the device.

In practice though, in the brief time I’ve spent using it, these don’t translate into an advantage with the factor that really defines Apple’s portable products: how it feels. I’ve not even thought of using any of these features in the past: whether that’s because they really aren’t necessary to my mobile use, or if I’ve just not used them because they aren’t there, it’s hard to say.

To me, though, there are four main reasons why I would want to ditch any browser:

  1. It isn’t stable and reliable.
  2. It’s a security risk.
  3. It doesn’t work smoothly and intuitively.
  4. It feels too slow.

The problem for Opera is that none of these really apply to Safari on mobile devices. So while Opera may very well be objectively equal to, or better than, Safari, it isn’t really filling a perceived gap.

Where Opera might make a tangible difference is on 3G connections, particularly in areas with poor service. In such situations it could be that the speed advantages over Safari are much more pronounced.

This isn’t the first “victory” Opera has had over larger rivals. It was the main complainant that prompted a European Union investigation into Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. That led to an ongoing program by which all European IE users are being greeted with a one-off on-screen prompt asking them to specifically choose one or more of the 12 leading browsers on the continent. While its market share hasn’t noticeably gone up yet, Opera claims it has seen a dramatic rise in downloads as a result.