Fewer than three weeks ago, we wondered aloud if Opera Software's bid to get its Opera Mini Web browser into Apple's iPhone App Store was pure folly, or if it was a gamble that Opera could actually win. Late Monday, Opera (and Apple) proved doubters and naysayers--like me--wrong when Apple approved Opera Mini for iPhone.
Apple's acceptance of a Web browser app may not seem like a big to-do, until one looks at Apple's notoriously stringent interpretation of the rules it created to keep competing software off the iPhone. Mobile Web browsers that compete with the iPhone's Safari browser do exist, but they're all based on the same WebKit browser engine used to power Safari. In contrast, Opera has coded Opera Mini using a combination of programming languages, without adopting WebKit. Apple has certainly denied apps for less.
At the CTIA conference in March, Opera's founder and former CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner told CNET that Opera stood a strong chance of getting Opera Mini accepted into the App Store through a loophole. Unlike many Web browsers, Opera Mini doesn't technically request and load Web pages through its native code. Instead, Opera Mini is a proxy Web browser because it sends Web page requests to Opera's servers, which then compress the Web page before sending it back to the phone. The result is not only an often-faster way to distribute Web content, but also a legitimate way to bypass Apple's objection to most standalone HTML browsers.
The appearance of Opera Mini on the App Store gives iPhone users another significant browser choice based on a completely different Web engine, and one that happens to be noticeably faster than Safari in our tests. Of course, we're holding out our final opinion for a real-world test, but Opera's capability to compress Web page data bodes well for triumph in browser speed tests on iPhone. We'd expect to see makers of other proxy browsers, such as like Skyfire, follow suit and submit versions of their apps for iPhone.
Opera Mini will be available for free within 24 hours depending on your country of residence. At the time of writing, Opera Mini for iPhone was not available on iTunes or on our San Francisco-based iPhone. According to Opera, the will be available in Japan first and its availablity is continuing eastward. While you wait, be sure to check out our hands-on video of Opera Mini on the iPhone, shot just three weeks ago.