Does Opera Mini represent the future of mobile browsing? I don’t know for sure but I do believe it is the best mobile browser for most users right now. As most of you probably know, Opera Mini, or Mini for short, is a free Java ME application that can run on most current and many older phones. Mini is a small (100KB) application that implements a full html web browser that rivals and in many cases exceeds the performance of the best Smartphone Browsers like Opera’s own Opera Mobile, Access’ NetFront V3.4, Microsoft’s Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) and Nokia’s new Series 60 V3 Browser.
A major component of the pleasure of using Mini is the excellent support that Opera provides through their User Forum. Opera employees promptly answer user questions and solicit suggestions for future enhancements. When problems are reported with specific phones, Opera often finds a fix in a few days and puts up a new release to solve the issue.
A big issue with previous proxy based browsers has been that users are at the mercy of the proxy provider. There have been loads of good browsers that are no longer usable because the company operating the proxy has gone out of business or moved on the other things. Palm.Net, Blazer 2.0 and ProxiWeb were all popular Palm OS browsers until their proxies were shut down. Operating a high volume proxy has considerable costs which need to be recouped by some sort of recurring revenue. Proxy based browsers that required a monthly or annual fee have not been very popular so there needs to be another source of revenue such as licensing or advertising. There is no guarantee that Opera won’t drop Mini someday but at least it’s free so enjoy it while you can. I actually think that Opera and Mini are going to be around for a long time. Opera Mini earns revenue three ways. The Mini Home Page has a number of default bookmarks (some of which can’t be deleted) and a search box with a drop down that allows the choice of several search engines with Google being the default. I’m sure that placement on the Mini home page has a price. Making Google the default search engine of Opera’s PC version is underwriting the cost of making it free. There is an agreement between Opera and Google to make Google the default search engine in Mini as well. Mini’s latest such alliance is with content provider MobilePlay who are paying for placement on browser’s homepage. The second and potentially the most profitable way that Mini makes money for Opera is by licensing the browser and proxy to operators. I think that Opera is giving Mini away to build a huge base of happy users which in turn will help sell Mini and the Mini proxy to handset makers and network operators. The strategy seems to be working. Opera reported back in April that 2 million copies have been downloaded and that Mini is serving 4 million daily page views. T-Mobile Germany is the first provider to bundle Mini (on their Web’n’Walk phones) and has found that it has produced a 119% increase in data ARPU. Finally Opera gets revenue by licensing branded versions of Mini. In one such deal, Ebay Germany is offering an Ebay branded edition of Mini with a default Ebay search and bookmarks to a customized Ebay site that supports mobile bidding and selling. I think Opera and Mini are going to be around for quite a while.
Getting back to the question in the post’s title. I think that Opera Mini is THE browser of the near future. Carrier and content provider alliances will introduce millions of additional users to the pleasures of mobile browsing with a fast browser that can handle almost any web page in a pinch and which shows mobile optimized sites in the best possible light. This in turn will have a major positive effect on the adoption of the web on mobile devices. Eventually, 3G, Moore’s law and breakthroughs in battery technology will give built-in browsers on mainstream phones the power of an Opera Mini and make proxy based browsers unnecessary – but for now Opera Mini is the best mobile browser regardless of price – and it’s free.