BobbyeM71hxwHands-On With Opera Mini for iPhone

Opera showed off an iPhone version of the company’s Opera Mini Web browser on Monday. If Apple accepts it, it would be the first true alternative Web browser available on iPhones and iPod Touches.

Apple has so far forbidden Web browsers that complete with Safari, anything that claims to be a “browser” in the App Store is a skin or plug-in that uses Safari to do its actual browsing.

According to Opera product manager Igor Natto, Opera Mini has a chance because it isn’t actually a browser. It’s a rendering engine for a highly compressed data format called OBML, which reduces data transfer by 80 to 90 percent over surfing real, live Web pages. When you go to a page using Opera Mini, it just sends a command to Opera’s servers, which are doing the real browsing.

Opera Mini would make a great solution for iPhone users on congested or roaming networks, where every bit counts, he also added. By reducing a 1-Mbyte page to 200 Kbits, roaming fees could drop from $5 to $1 for that page.

On a horribly congested Vodafone network with lousy reception in the middle of the convention center, Opera Mini loaded the New York Times Web page much more quickly than Safari did – in maybe 10 seconds as opposed to 30. And Opera’s customized zooming always centers the column of text you’re trying to read.

Opera Mini for iPhone looks like an iPhone app, but it seems to wilfully defy iPhone user interface rules that Opera deems silly. For instance, there’s no pinch-to-zoom. Instead there’s Opera’s optimized tap-to-zoom, with just one level of zoom. Some buttons look a bit more like Opera buttons (rectangular) than like iPhone buttons (roundish). If Apple requires pinch to zoom, and will implement it, according to Natto.

The browser has both visual bookmarks on its “speed dial” page and tabs, which appear as a stack of miniature pages that you can shift around. It looks more like Opera Mini 5 on other phones than like something designed to Apple’s requirements, and Natto said that’s on purpose.

Natto said, “What we did was to take Opera Mini and port from Java to a native iPhone app”. He also said, we’ll see what Apple thinks of that when Opera decides to submit Mini to the app store.

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