With so much energy and progress in the mobile browser space these past two months (see here and here), you would expect the makers of the venerable Opera Mini browser to release an update that makes real progress on its free browser for Java phones.
Instead, on Tuesday, Norway-based Opera Software pushed a mini update (download) that tacks on one syncing function, an assortment of skins worthy of Apple's iPod bonanza, and a wobbly kluge for introducing video playback.
Opera Mini's video playback is the biggest news here. It's in such high demand in the mobile world, it's little wonder why Opera wanted to give users some ability to get to videos using Opera Mini as the conduit. The new system slaps on a patch, but still passes you off to your native browser or media player to play a video when you click the link.
Opera reports that in Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones, for instance, Opera Mini will activate the media player when you click a video like YouTube. It will either close on its own and toss you back to Opera Mini, or you'll shut down and be passed back to the browser.
Competitor Skyfire's in-browser video streaming is far from ideal, but it manages to keep users from taking their eyes off the application. Considering that Skyfire's technology is similar to Opera Mini's and that Skyfire just barely opened its beta, it's a little disappointing that this bridge is all the mighty Opera can muster. Of course, Skyfire has a much smaller operation to maintain in terms of bandwidth costs and it's not certain they can continue to offer video to all interested users. However, Skyfire has gained enough ground to make Opera's added functionality look like a missed mark.
Opera Link, rainbow skins
In another tiny tweak, Opera Link gains the ability to sync notes to the Mini browser. The syncing feature shares up-to-date bookmarks and Speed Dial with any other Opera browser when you sign in. The minuscule addition makes you wonder why they didn't go ahead and throw in the ability to sync history, too.
The return of candy-colored skins is Opera's final front-end change. Skinning was slashed after version 3 as Opera's developers rewrote only the most essential code. The six skins--which you switch among by hitting Settings, then Appearance--include green, yellow, pink, silver, black, and a red not dissimilar to Opera Mini's original hue.
The final addition is worth pointing out is wholly back-end. Opera has added a server park in the U.S. that will speed performance for Opera Mini in the U.S. and Asia. The extra servers will disperse the load of users demanding resources; they will also keep those requests more centralized to the source, rather than routing data through Norway and back.