Browser maker Opera Software released a final preview of its latest mobile application, dubbed Mini, which promises to deliver improved Web viewing to wireless handsets.
The Norwegian company said Tuesday that it silently lifted a regional restriction it had placed on an advance version of the browser software, which had previously limited downloads to users in Nordic countries and Germany, ahead of Minis expected January launch.
The application claims to deliver a more desktop-like Web experience to any handset capable of running Java-based mobile applications, which includes many popular phones already in the hands of consumers.
Opera spokesman Eskil Sivertsen said the restrictions were removed to help the company test its browsers capacity to prepare for the global launch.
Along with the final version of Opera Mini, which Sivertsen said could include unspecified alterations, the company also plans to launch a new marketing campaign around the product, which will include a revamped Web site for downloads and device compatibility specifications.
Offered free of charge, Mini was designed as a simplified version of the firms other wireless offering, Opera Mobile Browser, which is designed to run on so-called smart phones, or more sophisticated wireless devices that offer the memory to store and run such applications.
Claiming the ability to run on most Java-capable handsets, Opera Mini promises to deliver the same performance of the Mobile Browser technology to a much wider range of devices.
Company officials maintain that the browser could run on hundreds of millions of existing phones that use WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) to access the Web, giving it a huge potential audience worldwide versus the smaller numbers of customers in the relatively new smart phone sector.
“Most people can get and surf the full Internet on the phone you have today using this, instead of buying an expensive new phone,” said Eskil Sivertsen, a spokesman for the Oslo-based company.
“We think there are a lot of people who want to try something like this now instead of waiting for their next phone.”
Seeking Out Partners
Opera claims that despite Minis smaller footprint, which uses a Java client application downloaded onto the phone to communicate with the companys servers, the browser offers almost the same experience as its device-hosted software.
The slimmed-down browser application leans on the servers to transform and compress Web content for smaller screens, eliminating much of the need for local memory.
While Opera plans to give away the application to users at no cost, it is exploring a number of different channels through which to distribute the browser, Sivertsen said.
Among the potential partners that Opera plans to seek deals with to get Mini onto more phones are both mobile operators and content providers. Opera will also look to such partners to market a white label version of the software that those companies can use to build their own services.
Such deals might resemble Operas existing relationship with Norwegian broadcast network TV2, which shares revenues with the browser maker in exchange for having its content pushed to wireless users in Norway.
The company is also looking at potential pay per view, or subscription services that it can develop with partners.
“Right now were not making any money on it, so were pushing it out there and hope people start picking it up and browsing on their handsets,” Sivertsen said.
“We think our customers can help move mobile Internet usage into the mainstream and give people a nice full Web experience on their existing handsets.”
While Opera defends that there is no comparable browser to Mini, in terms of serving so many Java-capable handsets there is an increasing amount of competition on the mobile browser market.
Along with Microsofts upcoming Windows Mobile 5.0 software, and development on the part of major wireless market stalwarts such as Nokia Corp., newer players such as Japans Access, which acquired operating system maker PalmSource in November, are also bringing new products to market.
Some experts have debated whether users will ever embrace mobile browsers such as Operas, which mimic the same style of interface as Microsofts Internet Explorer and other popular desktop Web surfing tools.
With limited real estate on the displays of most handsets, systems which use voice input to locate and call up different types of content or Web pages may be more appealing to subscribers someday.
However, some analysts are predicting that wireless customers will demand more traditional mobile browsers, specifically to access the millions of text-oriented sites hosted on the Internet today.
Nate Root, analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., said its likely that there will be new rich Web applications that could warrant something that looks a lot different than todays browsers, but he observed that most of the content online today is fairly static, and that users will still want to see those pages.
Root added that there might be a more “active” type of mobile application for accessing the Web that becomes popular, but he believes that there will also be demand for more traditional browsers.