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Third Party Mobile Browsers – part 1: Opera Mini

This is the first in a series of posts on interesting third party browsers for the mobile Web.

Introduction

If you have been listening to the media you’re probably aware of the war between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems for dominance the mobile market. You may even see the occasional article reminding you about Microsoft’s Windows Mobile phone and Research in Motion (RIM)’s BlackBerry. All of these devices together make up the majority of what people think of when they think of mobile devices.

Every device has their own default mobile browser. The latest version of Windows Mobile phone has an IE7/IE8 hybrid (with an update coming later this year to update to IE9), while iOS, Android, and the latest offering BlackBerry run some version of WebKit (the engine powering Google Chrome and Safari). But most of these devices allow you to install additional browsers. This series seeks to inform you of the most important and the most interesting of third party mobile browsers.

Opera Mini

You may or may not have heard of the Opera Web browser. Opera hails from a Norwegian company of the same name and is actually most innovative browser of all the major browsers. It is the first browser to offer great features such as tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and what later became HTML5 forms (something that Firefox and Chrome are just now beginning to offer today when Opera had support for most of these features back in 2007). While their North American market share is not much to gloat about, they are actually pretty popular over on the eastern hemisphere, as well as embedded devices such as the Nintendo Wii and mobile phones. In fact, Opera is the most used mobile browser in the entire world. While its usage is lower in North America, in today’s global economy it is not wise to discount where your next client may come from.

Opera’s splits their mobile offerings between two products: Opera Mini, and Opera Mobile. This article covers Opera Mini, and I will discuss Opera Mobile in another article.

Opera Mini is supported against a plethora of mobile devices: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian/S60, and Java based phones. It is a lightweight browser that is geared for low powered phones or users with poor internet connections or expensive data plans. Unlike most mobile browsers that directly access the Internet, Opera Mini instead connects to an Opera server where it sends a compressed version of the Web page back. In most real world situations this compressed version tends to load pages much faster than any other browser, but sites does tend to look slightly off compared to other browsers.

Some cool features include:

  • The aforementioned compressed page using Opera Turbo so users get pages faster and uses less data (saving users time and money)
  • Very low power usage, so users can browse longer without killing their battery
  • Quick access to your favorite bookmarks with Opera Speed Dial
  • Save pages for offline viewing
  • A cursor (if your device comes with something that can be used as such, like the D-pad on the Motorola Droid)
  • SSL encryption with Server Name Identification (making it more secure than the browser on all Android based devices currently on the market)
  • Support for CSS media queries allowing you to style the page in both portrait and landscape mode (though seems a bit buggy in my experience)

Some drawbacks to consider:

  • No ability to install plug-ins such as Flash
  • Limited design features:
    • No italic text
    • No native rounded corners (i.e. border-radius)
    • No native drop shadows (i.e. box-shadow)
  • Verylimited JavaScript abilities. This includes:
    • JavaScript animation
    • time based interactions may not behave as expected
    • Ajax based interaction is severely limited because it is not sending/receiving data from the true Web server
  • Limited ability to tailor sites for individual users
  • No HTML5 features
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About

Brian is the Director of Development and Social Media for Brand Builder Websites where he oversees the development, strategy, and goals for our software development. He is also a huge fan of Android.
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