By Harry McCracken | Monday, March 15, 2010 at 6:26 am
Here at South by Southwest Interactive, I finally got a little hands-on time with Opera Mini for the iPhone, which Opera started showing off last month at the Mobile World Congress Show in Barcelona. The Norwegian browser company told me that it’s still putting the finishing touches on it and plans to submit it to the iPhone App Store real soon now.
On every platform it runs on, Opera Mini’s signature feature is that it’s speedy, thanks to server-side compression that crunches Web pages down before they get sent to the browser. In my extremely informal experiments here at SXSW, Mini didn’t feel particularly zippy. (Actually, it loaded the New York Times’ home page more slowly than Mobile Safari did.) But it may not have been a real-world test of how it’ll perform when Apple approves it (please!) and it shows up on the App Store: An Opera representative told me that the compression is still going on via servers in far-away Norway, which would tend to bog things down.
Whatever its performance turns out to be like, Opera Mini has some features that might lead some folks to opt for it over Safari, at least on a part-time basis. It’s got Opera’s Speed Dial feature, which lets you get to favorite Web sites with one tap. It uses Opera Link to synchronize bookmarks with other copies of Opera on different devices. It lets you search for text within the current page, a pretty basic feature which Safari lacks.
On the other hand, Mini doesn’t try to match the desktop-like accuracy with which Safari renders Web pages: It just displays a rough approximation (albeit an acceptable one, at least on the pages I visited). And I don’t think it offers Safari’s ability to play YouTube videos.
Once Opera submits Mini for approval, Apple’s response will be one of the bigger litmus tests in iPhone history to date. Apple has been known to reject apps on the grounds that they duplicate existing iPhone functionality or might confuse users. But iPhone owners deserve to be treated like grownups who are smart enough to try multiple browsers before settling on one if they so choose. Just as they get to do on Android and just about every other platform, mobile or otherwise.
By submitting Opera Mini, Opera will be doing iPhone owners a favor. Heck, it’ll even do Apple a favor, by giving it a golden opportunity to do the right thing.