Opera Mini for iPhone is Fast Like a Rocket
Posted on February 15, 2010 by eli courey
I bet AT&T will be happy if the Opera Mini browser is approved for the App Store. Websites are compressed on Opera’s servers and being sent to the iPhone 90% smaller. This will cut down on iPhone data usage. I’m looking forward to seeing it in action myself.
Today I tried out Opera Mini running on the iPhone, and it kicks Safari’s butt. The folks at Opera have a native version of their browser running on the iPhone, and it while there are limits due to the way it is built, for sheer speed of browsing, it has Safari beat.
Opera Mini has not yet been submitted to Apple for approval: The demo I saw was of a very mature but unfinished version. But when it does get sent to Apple’s crack team of picky, fickle reviewers, it should, technically at least, pass. The reason that browsers other than those based on Webkit (Safari) aren’t allowed on the iPhone is that Apple bans the running of interpretive code. This means Java, or Flash, or any other runtime is out.
Opera Mini gets around this by doing all the rendering on the server – Opera’s servers actually run web browsers – and sending what are essentially pictures to the phone. These “pictures” look and act like regular web pages, only they are 90% smaller. That’s a big deal if you’re using a phone in a country with expensive bandwidth (Russia is a big market for Opera Mini).
IPhone users will be more interested in the cost reductions for roaming data use, and in speed. We loaded up the NYT front page in both browsers (Opera’s Phillip Grønvold is pretty good at hitting both “go” buttons at once) and we were up and browsing five or six pages deep with Opera before Safari had even finished the front page. Better, Opera is responsive to zooming and scrolling as soon as the text is up on screen. IPhone users know that this isn’t the case for Mobile Safari.
Another speed-up comes from caching. Not caching pages, but keeping the markup file (like we said, they’re not really just pictures) from each page, ready to re-display. This gives instant back-and-forward navigation.
There are some quirks. In order to keep things consistent across platforms (Opera Mini is available for almost any modern phone), some iPhone UI conventions are ignored. Copy and paste gets its own custom widgets, although it still talks to the built-in clipboard. In this way it is a little like, say, Photoshop, which has almost identical versions on Windows and OS X, even if the OS X version annoys many Mac users with its UI.
If Opera makes it through the Apple approval process, I’ll be grabbing it right away. The speed makes it perfect the kind of fast reading you do on a phone. And it has one feature that will surely make Apple warm to it: because it doesn’t support video of any kind, Opera Mini won’t display Flash.