Apple has a long history of rejecting apps that replicate or compete with its own first-party apps, including the Safari browser, iPod music player, and Mail email apps. Yet, somehow, Opera's Mini app was approved for the app store yesterday—and now it's available for everyone.
Opera Mini has been around for about five years as the mobile version of Opera, a multiplatform PC browser. The desktop version is very well regarded, and some of its key features (including Speed Dial, in which the home page or a blank tab is taken up by a thumbnail grid of favorite sites) have been co-opted by better-known browsers like Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. Ultimately, though, the desktop version of Opera has never achieved much mainstream success—but Opera Mini has. Out of 100 million Opera users, more than half use the Mini version.
Opera Mini is likely the most popular multiplatform mobile browser out there. It's available on BlackBerry, Android, Symbian S60, and Microsoft Windows Mobile, and now, against all odds, it's available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. And that's great for iPhone users, especially those still using the first iPhone 2G, because in some ways, Opera Mini is a better browser than Mobile Safari.
Opera Mini uses server-side compression, which takes a lot of the load off of a strained connection. Basically, that means that even on a lousy connection, like the iPhone 2G's EDGE (or, hell, any iPhone in NYC or San Francisco), pages will load extremely quickly. Opera's also got some interface features that blow Mobile Safari out of the water, including true tabbed browsing, the aforementioned Speed Dial, and synchronization with desktop versions of Opera.
It's not all win—Mobile Safari still more reliably loads pages accurately, and Opera Mini doesn't support any multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom. But I tested it for a bit on my iPod Touch, and performance was overall excellent. Pages loaded mostly accurately—sites with tons of Flash and other wacky stuff don't always load just right, but everything else was fine. And the speed! Even over Wi-Fi, it was noticeably faster loading than Mobile Safari, seeming like it's racing over the finish line. The tap-to-zoom works surprisingly well, creating a perfectly spaced column to read, and the tabbed browsing is really fantastic. It's far easier and faster to switch between pages on Opera Mini than on Mobile Safari. It's actually the best Opera Mini experience I've had, better than either BlackBerry or Android.
For lots of users who suffer from poor connections or just want something different, it'll be a breath of fresh air. And it's great for the App Store, too—competition always makes for better products. So maybe you could integrate tabbed browsing, eh Steve? You can check out Opera Mini in the App Store here—it's a free download, so why not?