Is Opera Mini 5 the New Game Changer?

Shortly after Apple announced that Opera Mini 5, the “super browser” from Google and Norwegian Opera Software company, was approved for their App Store, the downloads for the browser breached 1 million. The mobile browser, a staple in Java ME based phones as well as Symbian and Windows Mobile operating systems, instantly turned into a breakthrough for Apple’s guarded application market.

Is Opera Mini 5 the New Game Changer?

Not only was Google, Apple’s new mobile foe, involved in the app, but early reviews of the app all raved that it was faster, more powerful, and easier to use than Safari, the iPhone’s native browser. With Steve Job’s denial of apps that worked directly against his smartphone’s native applications, Opera Mini 5’s industry buzz seems to have paved the way for other competitive mobile applications hoping to move in on the iPhone.

If you haven’t used any of Opera’s browsers yet, here’s a quick breakdown of why it has built quite a formidable community of followers despite not having a mainstream appeal.

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By the Device

For web designers, the main difference between Opera Mini 5 and other browsers is the fact that information is optimized through Opera Software’s own servers, and then sent back to the browser for faster rendering. In many cases, entire frames and text will load before any additional images and scripts outside of the text finishes downloading.

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The Opera Presto 2.5 rendering engine currently supports all of CSS 1, most of CSS 2.1 and 3 modules, most of DOM 2 Core, ECMAScript, user-enabled geolocation services, and all forms of HTML (including 4, XHTML, and 5). Currently, Presto 2.5 also supports the HTML implementation of ARIA and MATHML for CSS profile.

A history of Mobile Browsers

The first samplings of mobile browsing came in the form of PDA browsers that were offered in 1996. NetHopper was the first example, invented by Apple Newton, a PDA hardware and software company that had its beginnings in Apple (as in iPhone/Mac).

Initially, all mobile browsers functioned as slower, smaller, and stripped-down versions of desktop offerings. In order to make up for the memory, processing, and internet speed deficiencies, the programs were mainly used to browse WAP websites, as well as Japan’s NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode network. The service, a rather revolutionary offering in the mobile internet realm as well, offered dumbed-down options for email, weather forecast, and a variety of other options as well.

Eventually, Microbrowsers that ran on single core platforms on GSM networks was developed in Britain (namely, HitchHiker), and the ball really started rolling. In 2001, Mobile Explorer 3.1 was introduced with i-mode compatibility, followed by Palm’s 2002 answer with Palmscape on their PDA products. Opera Mini is one of the four top Mobile HTML transcoders, along with Novarra Vision Mobile Server (also responsible for Palmscape), Skweezer, and Teashark.

Opera Mini 5 is Opera Software companies latest attempt at Mobile Browsing, and after it was offered on Apple’s App Store for free download, it surpassed the 1 million mark after just 3 days.

Mobile Mini 5 – Revolutionary?

Opera Mini’s best attribute is in the fact that it is fast. On both 2G as well as 3G wireless networks, the loading speed is overwhelmingly crisp as well as efficient.

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Opera’s browser, which was popularized on Blackberry smartphones ( as well as other phones with Java ME platform support such as Windows Mobile and Nokia) was made available through a partnership with Google and the Norwegian Opera Software company.

The browser essentially takes queries and passes them through Opera’s own servers. After pre-processing them, the information and data are sent off to your mobile phone for viewing. The entire process shortens load times for users by up to 3 times, making any other phone’s standard browsers pale in comparison.

Opera Mini 5 on the iPhone doesn’t actually use any JavaScript – instead it only reads compressed images and text that have been rendered by the servers for faster processing. What is increasingly surprising about the Opera Mini 5 is not the fact that Apple let it into the tightly knit App Store community, which has regularly blocked foreign programs that compete against the iPhone’s native functions.

It is that Opera’s browser is the first approved application that was designed without Apple’s open-source WebKit software. Many hope that instead of being an exception, the decision will actually open doors for many other applications that offer similar, or even highly-competitive, functions as Apple’s own apps.

While there are still many early gripes against Mini 5, such as the inability to use multi-touch to zoom or view highly detailed websites (because of the compressed format), the browser is still a definitive change. Perhaps Apple and Co were expecting the Mini 5 to fail at attracting an audience, since the 1-million user mark only explains downloads, and not satisfaction or continued users. Even so, as a secondary browser, it still has considerable pull, especially since it allows for much quicker rendering of easy to search websites.

In the end, any developers working on Safari may only have one concern, and that’s in keeping users so that ad campaigns on mobile devices keep paying. If that’s the case, then both sides win – users finally get a viable browsing option to go toe-to-toe with Safari, and the Apple faithful can look forward to a development team that has incentive to improve its own design.

Mobile Mini 5 and other Browsers

In a study done by laptopmag.com, Mobile Mini 5 proved to twice as fast at loading mobile websites when compared to Safari, but failed to claim the top spot. Even so, the fact remains that on Apple’s “walled-garden” smartphone, even an optimized browser made specifically for the device failed to beat a third-party application.

The following graph, from laptopmag.com, shows the comparison done on popular websites:

Browser NYT.com ESPN.com HULU.com Netvibes.com Flash AJAX
Skyfire Beta 06 (sec) 08 (sec) 09 (sec) 04 (sec) Yes Yes
Opera 9.5.1 Beta 60 (sec) 59 (sec) 28 (sec) 44 (sec) No Yes
Safari 29 (sec) 28 (sec) 33 (sec) 54 (sec) No Yes

Pros and Cons

As is the case for any application, not all news supports the browser revolution. Some have stated that Opera Mini 5 may load pages significantly faster, but older handsets and hardware take longer to load the app itself. Other reviewers, such as PCMag.com, have commented on the sluggishness that Opera Mini 5 exhibits on slower phones and services when compared to native apps even when fully loaded and running.

As Opera Mini 5, when optimized, is almost completely accepted as a fast and efficient browser, here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of server-side rendering in general.

The process is a form of cloud computing, with all the information that is processed also saved onto the servers in order to process the information. This can both offer faster transfers that are more suitable to differing internet speeds, as well as increase the functionality of apps and programs that require information and data to download constantly. On the other hand, this can also lead to server-side caching.

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As a result, the idea of information from websites being pre-rendered, and therefore downloading sensitive information as well as settings onto their servers has some early adopters thinking that a problem with privacy may soon come up. Web server technology involves running the scripts directly on their web servers instead of on the client-side, which would be the user’s browser.

As a result, the idea of information from websites being pre-rendered, and therefore downloading sensitive information as well as settings onto their servers has some early adopters thinking that a problem with privacy may soon come up. Web server technology involves running the scripts directly on their web servers instead of on the client-side, which would be the user’s browser.

On a client-side server, the data is processed in JavaScript or VBScript directly, which is Dynamic HTML, and allows for more fluidity in information and content updates when they are processed through different types of browsers and conditions. This all occurs on the user’s own computer, so depending on the available specs and processing power different designs may or may not work.

Versus client-side servers, server-side rendering runs through HTTP or FTP protocols and offers more customization for responses based on the web developer’s requirements – allowing them to set up queries into data stores, accessibility options, and specific communications protocols.

Compatibility

While Opera Mini 5’s servers are compatible with JavaScript (ECMAScript 3) by using Opera 9.5’s rendering engine, the process of optimizing them for viewing limits the specific subsets of JavaScript that can be supported. Background scripting, Ajax support, and DOM events have varying results in terms loading from a remote server.

What Opera succeeds in is showing static snapshots of the web page, which is quick and efficient for smaller screens. However, not every Opera optimized website will look as it should and some may actually show blank or unreadable pages, due to images that are either too wide or too large to be downloaded correctly from Opera Presto 2.5. Sometimes, there are simple CSS fixes that can help, like adding :

Style=“img{max-width:100%; height: auto;}”

Coding explicitly for Opera Mini 5 is not suggested, though, since it can end up changing the website on Internet Explorer or other browsers.

When zooming in with Opera, sometimes optimized web pages are also unreadable – when compared to other mobile browsers that load the site onto the phone (Safari and Android’s Web Browser) the text is small but can still be deciphered from a full zoom out. On Opera’s pages, however, many times the text is shown as simple lines since the browser is really just showing a static image. Here is an example of the same website being viewed on Opera Mini 5 and Safari.

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In other cases, some sites can fail to load correctly, missing columns of texts, pictures, or even an entire page’s content. One documented site that had trouble loading was Boy Genius Report. Here is any example of the website viewed correctly (left) and then on Opera Mini 5 (right):

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Need for Speed:

In comparison to many current native mobile browsers on the market, Opera Mini 5 beat Motorola’s Droid by roughly 20 seconds, Java-based Bolt (another Third-party browser) by an average of 4-5 seconds, and Safari wasn’t really a contest at roughly 50 seconds. If the question is whether or not Opera Mini 5 is the quickest browser available for mobile phones, then the real answer is: maybe.

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The tests all concluded that the results for loading web pages differed depending on what network, phone, and circumstance (multi-tasking, websites, and location) the phones where used under. However, if the question is whether or not server-side processing browsers are faster, then the answer is a definitive yes. Even so, Opera Mini 5 is far from perfect. Neither is it the fastest in its class, as Skyfire (another server-side browser from Skyfire Labs) beat Opera in head-to-head tests, though not by much.

Since all mobile devices have different specs, the hardest part about optimizing a website for a smartphone is in the inability to predict what screen size will be used for viewing. It is important to use Web Standards along with Media Queries to dynamically optimize layouts. Using Media Queries, a CSS 3 feature, involve setting a limit for pages that are meant to be viewed on screens that are less than a certain amount of pixels. For example, if the styles on a site need to be limited to 480px or less, then the Media Query would be:

@media screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {  
  
// insert CSS rules here  
  
}

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Optimizing for mobile involves the scope of max-device-width, whereas desktop browsers that deal with virtual screen sizes won’t need to limit the formats since users can resize their browser windows themselves. To find the correct versions for your own needs, Opera offers mobile sites that can figure out the browsing capabilities of your phone for you. By directing your mobile browsers to m.opera.com or get.opera.com, a compatible version of Mini 5 will be downloaded automatically.

After installation, the process is simple and rather efficient, with nine slots for automatic website shortcuts offered on the start page. Popular high-traffic websites such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook are already saved, and changing and adding more can be done through the +/- icons at the bottom of the window. Opera’s browser offers a rather sophisticated format for browsing, where larger icons for page-back, forward, and refresh are all offered as single tap options (much larger and convenient than other browsers, such as Mobile Safari).

Under the wrench icon’s menu, there are options for Bookmarks, History, Start Page, Saved Pages, Downloads, and even options for “Find in Page.” In addition, a highly customizable Settings menu offers options to help speed up the browsing process to match your smartphone’s capabilities. You can select whether to load images, what quality level to load them at, and whether to allow fullscreen viewing as well. Depending on your phone’s processor speeds, Opera Mini 5’s settings can make the downloading process much more reliable.

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For mobile users, internet speeds from the now seemingly ancient 2G (Edge) networks to Sprint’s upcoming 4G all show the browser as being lightning fast, at least when compared to other programs. Instead of loading information directly from websites, Opera Software opts to take all online queries for data and send them off to Opera’s Presto 2.5 rendering engines to pre-process and format for your phone. This in turn enhances the loading speeds by up to 3 times.

This essentially takes away the need for the browser itself to process JavaScript, load large image files, or wait for special coding to load, and instead all the information is pre-rendered to fit the viewing format. Speed is not the only winning qualifier here, though – Opera Mini 5 also offers tabbed browsing, speed dial bookmarks, password managers, and its own version of a touch-zooming option.

Optimizing for Phones – Are Mobile Sites Necessary?

While the smartphone market is continually growing, there is still debate as to the relevance for mobile optimization on the part of web designers. The answer to the question of necessity relies solely on the industry as well as the propensity for mobile conversion of the businesses’ return on investments.

Restaurants, delivery-focused services such as food, or even transportation-based companies such as taxi-cabs and shuttle services would all be able to benefit from offerings on mobile internet. On the other hand, more specific industries such as clothing, collectables, and cell phone accessories would likely gain more from pursuing downloadable mobile applications versus simply offering an informational mobile page.

However, eventually the accessibility for smartphones on the web will eclipse traditional outlets by numbers alone, so a focus on mobile websites will likely depend on the improvements in technology. Feature phones, as in mobile phones that offer simplistic online options like picture mail and email, still outnumber smartphone purchases simply because of their availability and pricing.

At the moment, the market simply does not require every available website to offer a mobile option simply because the population demands are not high enough. Spending time or money on completely detailing a mobile site may not pay off – though looking into the option depending on your industry is advised.

Further Resources

For further reading, here are some other articles that detail Mobile Mini 5’s optimization:

Image Credits

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55 Comments

  1. Such a very nice posting great Thanks for sharing with us….

    • Really great post.Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice post.

  3. n the quiet words of the Virgin Mary: come again? How was Google involved in that? Apart from Quick Launch shortcut, which makes Twitter and Facebook as involved as Google?

  4. I always like Opera Mini when I browse on my mobile phones than any other browsers because it’s fast, handy and provide full screen support. I think if Firefox and other browsers are not paying attention to mobile like Opera, they will lose market soon

  5. Something happened to my original comment and I believe my question was valid.

    What do you mean by “Google [was] involved in the app”? Did he pay the developers? Is it owner of the technologies? Or is it just a company that paid for preset links? That would make Tweeter and Facebook as involved…

    My understanding was, all Minis (Java/iPhone/Symbian/WinCE/WinMob) are made in-house by and indenpendent Oslo-based company called Opera Software. And noone else.

  6. I love opera mini for mobile internet surfing !

  7. @ DMZ – Opera Mini 5 is free for users because it is funded largely by Google for directing traffic their way. By preset links, I’m assuming you’re referring to the included shortcuts for Twitter and Facebook, but Google has a much larger stake in a browser than Twitter and Facebook, considering how they both already have numerous apps dedicated to website support. Hardly anyone actually uses Opera Mini 5 for their mobile Twitter and Facebook accounts. Auto-Google search on what is reportedly one of the fastest mobile browsers, however, is worth a lot of money. I’d just be glad that they’re not asking anyone else for money.

  8. “The first samplings of mobile browsing came in the form of PDA browsers that were offered in 1996. NetHopper was the first example, invented by Apple Newton, a PDA hardware and software company that had its beginnings in Apple (as in iPhone/Mac).”

    There are a lot of inaccuracies in this statement.

    1) The first version of NetHopper was actually shipped in 1995, not 1996.

    2) NetHopper was not “invented by Apple Newton”, it was developed by AllPen Software and distributed through Landware.

    3) “Apple Newton” wasn’t a “PDA hardware and software company” … in fact, it wasn’t a company at all. The platform was called “Newton”, the hardware product line was called “MessagePad”, and the company was obviously “Apple Computer”.

    Please do a bit of basic research in the future. Obvious errors such as these make your writing appear extremely amateurish.

  9. Sorry for the question, but I am very interested in how CMS operates a blog?

  10. But – you call a simple B2B an “involvement”, which suggests Google knowingly pays for the Operans’ effort. It’s like saying Ceneo (a site for price comparison) is involved in Polish builds of Mini, as it is a default search in those builds.

    “Involvement” means Google cares about the product itself – while I believe they don’t. They might even not know, what Mini is, as far as they see Mini proxies in their logs and must pay whatever comes from B2B agreement.

    Your first sentece says “it’s a browser from Google, oh! and some company from Oslo”. If your answer to me is an argument for that sentence, I must stress how wrong it is: I believe that if there was no agreement with Google, this browser would be there anyway. Original Mini was created to fill a void Operans found and would be created with funding from other means as well.

    Do you also believe Firefox is created by Google and not the Mozilla/community, since not only their search is Google by default, but also their homepage is hosted by G?

    Do you finally believe Safari is Google’s – since their default search is Google, again?

  11. Opera is definitely top of the line. But I don’t see it overtaking other programs just yet. Give it time and maybe, but soon I don’t think so!

  12. It was really awesome post!
    Thanks for sharing..
    Always love to read your blog post!

  13. Is actually an excellent browser for smart phones.
    I use opera in my smart phone and I love it. It is quite easy to use and very versatile.
    Regarding the post is also excellent and very detailed.
    Thank you.

  14. Nice informative post. Thanks for share. :)

  15. nice and impressive posting…
    thanks

  16. love opera mini for mobile internet surfing ……..

  17. Thanks for great game changer article. Really inspiring..
    Nice. Thanks.

  18. That’s a mold-breaker. Great thniknig!

  19. nice I like it.

  20. A good post with proper resource. You are appreciated for.

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