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Opera goes mobile with AJAX

Opera offers a beta of a software development kit that allows creation of interactive Web applications on smart phones.

Opera has announced a beta software development kit (SDK) for its mobile phone Web browser and user interface package, called Opera Platform.

The announcement was made in conjunction with the World Wide Web Consortium's Mobile Web Initiative event, held Tuesday in London. Opera's plan intends to make mobile applications easier for developers to create and cheaper for the end user.

The Opera Platform was announced two years ago to enable developers to build cell phone front-ends using native interfaces. The SDK helps coders build applications for mobile phones using Web languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript installed locally on the phone.

The Opera Platform also gives developers access to native features on the phone that wouldn't otherwise be accessible, such as address books or the ability to send SMS messages.

The Opera Platform needs to be incorporated into a phone's operating system by its manufacturer, so the SDK won't provide the ability to create applications for all phones. In fact, this SDK may be at a disadvantage to other technologies, such as Java 2 Micro Edition, which is included in many new phones.

The use of AJAX in Web applications has increased since the appearance of services like Google Maps. By transferring only XML-encoded data, rather than entire Web pages, AJAX applications can appear much more interactive.

"The full Web browser has proved itself as a central application on mobile phones and is today the main source for data traffic on mobile networks," Timo Bruns, Opera vice president for mobile products, said in a statement.

"With Opera Platform we are now building the foundation for the next generation of mobile services by enabling the easy, fast and cost-effective creation of compelling Web-based mobile applications."

One aim of the Opera Platform and SDK is to reduce the amount of data transferred for an application to work. Since HTML for the front-end is already stored on the phone, less data needs to be downloaded over the wireless link.

A recent investigation by ZDNet UK showed that roaming data charges can be several times higher than standard rates, so reducing the bandwidth needed for applications would be welcome for international travellers.

The SDK can be downloaded for free from the Opera Web site.

Jonathan Bennett of ZDNet's Builder UK reported.