Three weeks ago, Opera submitted the iPhone version of its Opera Mini browser to Apple for approval, and I cheerfully predicted it would show up on the App Store within a couple of weeks. I was off by one week: Mini is now available as a free download.
I figured the app would make it because…well, I couldn’t think of a reason why it wouldn’t. Apple isn’t involved in epic battle with Opera (unlike, say, Google). It can be pretty confident that Safari will remain by far the iPhone’s dominant browser even if Opera Mini does quite well. And hey, making trouble for browser companies that wish to run on your operating system is demonstrably bad juju.
Opera Mini’s signature feature is the way it compresses Web pages on the server side, then sends the browser a slimmed-down version to speed things up. So far, I’ve only tried the browser in the comfort of my own home. I used it on 3G and Wi-Fi, and it felt reasonably snappy but not outrageously more so than Apple’s Safari. I then put my phone into 2G mode, and Mini still did quite well–but it only seemed a bit swifter than Safari.
I happen to live in an area blessed with very solid AT&T coverage; in areas with shakier service, it’s possible that Mini might feel more strikingly fast.
Mini is in no way a Safari-killer. Its page rendering is much less attractive and desktop-like than Safari’s, and sometimes it’s just plain wrong. (Now that Mini is on the App Store, I hope that Opera continues to polish it up,) Like Safari, it doesn’t do Flash; unlike Safari, it also can’t play YouTube videos. Certain things about it feel a tad foreign on the iPhone, like its non-standard interface for copying text.
But though Opera Mini isn’t without its downsides, it has a number of attractive features which Safari doesn’t. One of them is one I use constantly on desktop browsers: the ability to search for text within a Web page. Its approach to juggling multiple pages feels more like tabbed browsing; it has a full-screen mode; it can save pages for offline reading; and it works with Opera Link, which lets you sync bookmarks among multiple copies of Opera. Overall, it feels like a slightly more feature-rich alternative to Safari, not a stripped-down wannabee.
In other words, it’s possible that some people will prefer Mini to Safari–or it least find it worth using on a part-time basis. Isn’t nice that they’ll get to make that decision?
Herewith, a few screen images–if you try the browser out, let us know what you think,