Opera aims for Android, hardware acceleration

Google's mobile operating system is a match made in heaven for the Norwegian browser company. Also coming: hardware acceleration for mobile, desktop.

Opera Mobile is coming to Android.
Opera Mobile is coming to Android. Stephen Shankland/CNET

OSLO, Norway--Opera Software announced significant new steps for its browsers today, including the release soon of Opera Mobile for Android phones and extensions technology in the upcoming Opera 11 for computers.

In both those cases--and also in the Opera Mini browser for less capable phones--the browsers will come with a major new feature: hardware acceleration to speed the display of pages and operations such as scrolling and panning. That change is essential to keep Opera relevant in a highly competitive industry.

Opera Chief Development Officer Christian Krogh
Opera Chief Development Officer Christian Krogh Stephen Shankland/CNET

Android is aligned well with Opera's business strategy. First, Google's mobile operating system, unlike Apple's iOS, is open to other browsers. It's spreading from the high-end smartphone area to more affordable, mainstream models where Opera is strong today. And Android can be customized to the tastes of hardware makers or carriers, many of whom today have partnerships with Opera.

But so far the company has offered only Opera Mini for Android, a browser that relies on an Opera server to translate pages into a stripped-down form. And now the company must contend both with smartphones that promise a richer view of the Web and the fact that Mozilla's Firefox is arriving alongside the built-in browser that Google provides.

"Opera Mobile for Android is the real McCoy. It's the full Web browser on the phone," Opera Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh said at a press conference here. The software should arrive on the Android Market within 30 days, and perhaps within October.

Opera Mini is good for reaching mobile devices with small screens and limited network capacity, but it's got shortcomings too. For example, with the Opera server re-rendering Web pages and sending them to the mobile device, it's not able to handle interactive Web applications such as one for entering information into a calendar.

The browser market is fiercely competitive today on both full-fledged personal computers and mobile phones, and Opera is working hard to maintain its relevance. Google's Chrome rapidly pushed Opera down from fourth place to fifth on computers, and a host of advanced browsers on high-end iOS and Android smartphones threaten Opera's stronghold on mobile devices.

Opera CEO Lars Boilesen
Opera CEO Lars Boilesen Stephen Shankland/CNET

Hardware acceleration is a key change to stay competitive, and with the shift under the Opera covers to the Vega rendering engine, it's coming.

"We definitely aim to have hardware acceleration in Opera 11," Lars Erik Bolstad, Opera's vice president of core technology, said in an interview.

Hardware acceleration on mobile will include one multitouch option in high demand--pinch to zoom--for Opera Mobile, the company said. It aims to provide the feature on whatever phone can support it.

For Opera 11's extensions, the company will employ the same approach begun by Chrome and followed later by Firefox and Safari. Specifically, Opera 11 extensions will rely on Web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, said Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie.

The company showed two extensions in operation, one for using Reddit and one for sending highlighted text to a Wikipedia search.

Opera already is very customizable, but extensions will enable more fine-tuning, Krogh said.

"Today we are announcing extensions for Opera to address the long, long, long tail," Krogh said, referring to the large number of people with specific and different requirements.

 

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