Opera ASA, the manufacturer of various mobile browsers, has managed to gain a cult following on almost all platforms: Windows Mobile heads love the superb rendering engine, Symbian heads used to love the tabs and Palm OS and BlackBerry heads used Opera Mini to replace their crappy default browsers.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Thomas Ford from Opera Mini on various topics ranging from tab-capable Opera Mini builds to Opera Turbo and Opera for S60 – read on for the full scoop..

Please tell us more about yourself and your company
My name is Thomas Ford. I’m a communications manager for Opera. I started working for Opera in 2005, so I’ve been pretty lucky to watch some of our more recent history unfold.

Opera is the only company in the world that makes Web browsers for all devices. So whether you have a PC, high-end smartphone, Web-enabled TV, or even a Ford F150, you could have an Opera browser there as well.

Despite what some people believe, Opera isn’t a small company. We have more than 700 employees working in our offices around the globe. I think what impresses me the most is how passionate everyone is about the business of building Web browsers. You could look, but I am confident you would not find another company of its kind anywhere.

As it stands now, mobile devices get more and more powerful by the minute. This makes native browsers more and more competitive. Don’t you think that this will squeeze OPM out of the market?
I think despite the advances in native browsers there will still be plenty of room for Opera. Native browsers are really improving on only one type of device: smartphones.

On those higher-end phones we still offer plenty of advantages to consumers, operators and phone manufacturers. For one, we offer Opera Mini and Opera Turbo to help ease the bandwidth constraints on today’s mobile networks. Creating a browser is hard work and we have the experience to make great mobile browsers that consumers enjoy using.

We’ve been doing it for 10 years and that experience gives us the ability to do things faster and more cost effectively for our partners.

At the same time, smartphones comprise less than 15% of the total phone market. By far, more phones are sold without high-end browsers natively. For these phones, Opera Mini is the ideal solution. Operators love it because a better browser translates to more data revenues, so we actively work with operators to offer the same Web browsing experience throughout their device portfolio.

Opera Mini shines on devices where the integrated browser sucks (think Palm OS Treos). As mobile web browsers get better, don’t you think that Opera Mini will fade away?
Rather than fade away, Opera Mini will continue to evolve. Consumers demand a better mobile Web experience, but not all OEMs and operators want to put their resources into making a Web browser, particularly as consumer expectations increase. We can offer Opera Mini very easily to operators they know it will work on almost all their phones, with minimal effort on their part. At the same time, it makes surfing on these phones enjoyable, so more consumers actually use it. This translates into greater revenues for operators while at the same time consumers have a good experience. By addressing both what operators and OEMs need, as well as what consumers want, I think Opera Mini will have a bright future.

I should also point out that there are approximately 1.6 billion people on the Web, but that anywhere from 50 to 60 percent of the world’s citizens have a mobile phone connection. Over the coming years more people will get online with a mobile device than ever did with a PC. I think that trend will continue to ensure both Opera Mobile and Opera Mini remain vibrant products.

What about the future features of Opera Mini? Will it ever get tab support, for instance (the beta was available some time ago).
Tab support is definitely one of the most requested features for Opera Mini. I can tell you that we listen loud and clear to the feedback we receive. Opera Mini 5, when released, will be a major step forward for Opera Mini. I think you and your readers will be quite excited.

The native version of Opera is under pressure as OS vendors improve their browsers (think IE6 mobile). Where do you see Opera Mobile two years from now, and now will it remain competitive?
I think Opera Mobile will support more platforms and will include even more server-side technologies to improve browsing on mobile devices. Due to the sheer size of the required investment, newer mobile broadband technologies are not rolling out as quickly as the newest, most advanced handsets. Opera Mobile will help bridge that gap.

I also think in general you will see more operators and OEMs looking for a single, unified browsing solution across their product portfolio. Opera is the only company that will work with operators and OEMs to create a browser that can work on all their devices. We can even include widgets, for eaiser access to Web-based applications. Our work with T-Mobile on their web’n'walk platform speaks to what we can accomplish when we collaborate with world-class operators.

A version of Opera Mobile which uses the 3d chip of some phones for scrolling has been announced some time ago. Why isnt it available for purchase yet?
Actually, we just announced a beta of Opera Mobile 9.7. It supports some of the hardware acceleration you mentioned. If you have a Windows Mobile phone, visit http://www.opera.com/mobile/download/ to give it a spin.

What about Opera for Symbian? We have heard of licensing troubles with the Flash player in the past…
Clearly consumers now more than ever want Flash on their handsets, primarily to access the wealth of Flash-based video content on the Web. Adobe understands this and we are actively working with them to find a solution.

As far as a browser for Symbian, our current focus is on the widget platform for Series 60. Expect to see news on the browser front sometime this year.

Opera’s accelerator proxy looked very promising in the demo video. When will it become available to end users, and at what price?
Right now Opera Turbo is available for free in the new Opera Mobile 9.7 and Opera 10 desktop versions. All those servers and all that bandwidth comes at a price though, so we are still studying how this affects our business model.

I suspect by the time Opera 10 reaches its final release, we will have our business model in place for Opera Turbo.

When will Opera be available for the BlackBerry?
As a BlackBerry user myself, I would be lost without Opera Mini. If you’re looking for Opera Mobile on BlackBerry that may take some time, so Opera Mini is still your best choice.

Only good things will come from more people using Opera Mini on BlackBerries. For instance, with more people testing and identifying issues, we can fix them faster. Maybe a large user base on BlackBerry will also help us in the same way that it worked for Virgin Mobile. They found a lot of their customers were using Opera Mini, so they reached out to us and we worked with them to perfect our browser on their phones.

Anything you would like to add?
Thanks for the chat. Using our browser is one way to support our goal of making the Web an open resource for everyone. I hope more people discover the mobile Web through Opera Mini.

Related posts:

  1. Opera mini available for download, growing fast
  2. Opera Mini 5 gets tab support
  3. Opera Mini 4.2 – beta out
  4. Why there is no real Opera for the Palm OS
  5. 2000 users signed the Opera Petition – no results yet

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