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Social goes big on Opera Mini

Advanced social-networking tools arrive in a new preview build of Opera's most popular browser, while its full-featured sibling Opera Mobile powers up with WebGL.

BARCELONA, Spain--The maker of the second-most popular mobile browser in the world has given its feature-phone fans something to tweet about, as Opera Mini Next debuted and brought several smartphone features to "dumb" phones.

The big new feature that's kicking off the inaugural build of Opera Mini Next, the developer's preview of the browser, is "smart" page called Home. Home will live next to Opera's Speed Dial, its customizable collection of regularly visited Web sites that occupies top billing across all Opera browsers, and it serves a similar function. It will let you bookmark regularly visited, regularly updated sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, so that you can quickly check for updates without having to load the site in full.

In an interview last week, Phillip Gronvold, Opera's product manager for mobile, said that because of the Turbo feature's data compression the automatic updates only cost 1 KB of data per update. The feature is on by default but can be turned off in the browser's settings.

He also clarified that Turbo works slightly differently on different versions of Opera. On Opera Mini, which has more than 160 million users worldwide, can compress Web traffic up to 90 percent. That compression, Gronvold said, can come at a high cost sometimes: occasionally, a site will break. Opera Mobile and Opera for PCs use a slightly different compression methodology that doesn't compress the data quite as much, he explained, but it also doesn't bork sites.

Those huge bandwidth savings are must for many people on rate-limited plans. Gronvold also said that despite the in-development designation, he expected most people who installed Opera Mini Next to find it to be stable. "It's not fully ready because we haven't finished yet setting up local content in all the different markets," he said. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test out Opera Mini Next before this story was written.
The Home tab keys into site feeds, so you can see site update notifications in Opera Mini without loading the site in full.
The Home tab keys into site feeds, so you can see site update notifications in Opera Mini without loading the site in full. Opera

Also in Opera Mini Next is the ability to set more than nine sites to Speed Dial. However, the Android and iOS versions of Opera Mini won't include the Home screen. Instead, smartphone versions of Opera Mini Next will see smoother browsing powered by hardware acceleration.

Opera Mini Next installs concurrently to the stable version of Opera Mini and can be distinguished by a white icon as opposed to the standard red one.

Joining Opera Mini Next 7 on stage is the latest full update to the Mini's smartphone counterpart. Opera Mobile 12 for Android, leap-frogging the version number of Opera for PCs, which are still on version 11, includes several notable changes. Opera Mobile 12 brings WebGL support for 3D rendering on your smartphone, native HTML5 support, the same unlimited number of Speed Dial sites as Opera Mini Next has, and in-browser support for your device's camera. Gronvold suggested an Opera-built demo Web site at shinydemos.comfor testing WebGL on the mobile browser.

As for the future of Opera on mobile devices, Gronvold expressed high hopes but he said that it's going in a different direction from competitors such as Mozilla. "A Boot-to-Gecko system is something that we're not interested in. We dabbled in it with Opera Platform in 2004, but we don't see it as a solution for our product portfolio with our partners," he said.

Instead, Opera will continue to develop Mini and Mobile concurrently. Mini will focus on feature phones, lower-powered smartphones, or those devices on rate-limited networks, while Mobile will be a more precise replica of the PC version of Opera.

Updated at 5:09 p.m. PT: The final version of Opera Mini 7 for iOS is now available in the iTunes Store.