Can Opera Become to Mobile What Firefox has Become to the Computer?

Tuesday, Opera released a preview of Opera Mini 4.2, a mobile Web browser that works on nearly every phone. Yet with 20 million users of the Mini browser worldwide, the technology company has yet to take hold of the U.S. market.

Opera, as a Web Browser on your computer, has been in existence since 1994, back when the desktop browser wars were between Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. Sure, there's no Netscape today, but the browser war is moving to the mobile Web, with Safari on the iPhone, IE on Windows Mobile, BlackBerry's Web Browser, and Chrome on Android. Not to mention, Firefox (aka Fennec) is coming to the mobile Web soon. And some would even like to argue that the experience on the Symbian OS on Nokia phones is real Web browsing, but it's not — and that's where mobile browsers like Skyfire and Opera come in. Opera first developed a mobile browser in 1998, and Opera Mini first launched in January 2006

Unfortunately, the American cellphone market didn't truly realize what the real Web experience could be like — or care about it — on a phone until Apple released its iPhone. "Steve Jobs makes it sound like this is the first time we have real Web browsing on the phone," Opera CEO Jon von Tetzcher said when I met with him a few weeks ago. "The Internet is too important to only be available to some people."

The fact is, Opera Mini is free and it is available for any phone that has the system to support downloading and using it. That's why its use in Africa took off this year. The, "Opera: State of the Mobile Web Report," states, "The use of Opera Mini in Africa increased by 180 percent from January 2008 - September 2008." Being ahead of the curve helped the mobile browser become number one internationally, but what about the U.S.?

Simply, Opera hasn't had the marketing push here that it's had elsewhere. While the U.S. ranks fourth in terms of Opera mobile usage, more people in Russia, Indonesia, and China use the browser. Also, its symbiotic relationship with Nokia doesn't help it much either. Nokia may dominate cell phone sales, but not in the U.S. So it's a challenge of globalization more than anything else. According to von Tetzcher, Opera products are sound. "Once you spend a week with Opera, then you're stuck," he says, citing that its a better product overall with more power and greater access to the sites that matter most — social networking.

But even the company's mobile innovations haven't fully caught on here. Opera Mobile 9.5, the paid version of Opera's mobile Web was released as a free beta a couple of weeks ago. As a plus, it comes with widgets and a widgets SDK to empower both users and developers. Yet, while all of these innovations where happening at Oslow, Norway-based company, in the U.S. we were busy talking about the news surrounding the Android phone and the Android Market, as well as the upcoming release of Fennec.

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