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Opera Mini 9 browser squeezes video down to size for iOS

Opera Software's newest browser for Apple's mobile OS incorporates a data-compression feature to cut down on video problems. It's also tuned for new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus screens.

The Opera Mini 9 browser for iOS now includes video compression technology to reduce video stuttering and save on mobile network data usage.
The Opera Mini 9 browser for iOS now includes video compression technology to reduce video stuttering and save on mobile network data usage. Opera Software

Opera Software announced a new version of Opera Mini for iPhones and iPads that incorporates a data-compression feature to cut down on data-transfer problems.

Opera Mini 9 for iOS, Apple's mobile operating system, now includes the Rocket Optimizer technology that came with Skyfire, a video and data compression technology company that Opera bought last year. The optimizer recompresses video into a more compact form so people don't have to worry as much about bumping into monthly data usage limits.

That's potentially a handy feature -- 41 percent of videos watched over mobile networks in the US showed stalling problems, according to measurements from Opera and OpenSignal. And Opera needs any advantage it can get in a mobile market where success is much tougher than when Opera Mini first rose to power.

Opera Mini was a pioneering browser for mobile phones in the last decade, but it has suffered with the arrival of powerful smartphones running Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating system. Those include full-fledged browsers, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome.

The compression services in September cut Opera Mini data consumption of 17.5 petabytes of Web page data down to just 4.7 petabytes. In that month, Opera had 270 million mobile browser users, 245 million of them using Opera Mini.

Opera is changing its browser lineup significantly to respond to new competitive challenges. Opera's Coast browser for iOS presents a new, simplified interface. And it shifted its browser for Android, Apple OS X, Linux and Windows to use Google's Blink browser engine project that powers Chrome. That change largely meant the end to Opera's Presto engine.

Running a browser on iOS is tricky, because Apple doesn't permit others to use their own software to process Web page coding and render the resulting page. Instead, they must use Apple's WebKit software, a built-in option in iOS.

Opera Mini adds another twist, though. In its "Mini mode," it relies on a remote Opera server to process Web pages; those servers transmit a boiled-down version to the Opera Mini app, an approach called proxy browsing. The approach can be used to save bandwidth with static sites like news pages or Wikipedia, but it interferes with Web apps that rely on programs written in JavaScript for interactivity.

Opera Mini also can run in "Turbo mode," a different approach that uses Opera servers to compress data but that relies on the iOS device to process the Web page. This is where the Skyfire video compression technology comes into play.

There's a big caveat with Turbo mode, though: encryption. Skyfire's video compression doesn't work with encrypted Web pages, which Opera's proxy servers can't fiddle with before they're sent to the browser. And there's a broad push toward encryption on the Web to protect against hackers, government snooping and privacy invasion in general.

YouTube uses HTTPS to encrypt its site, and another video site, Vimeo, is moving toward HTTPS encryption, Chief Technology Officer Andrew Pile told CNET in October.

Another complication: with the arrival of high-resolution screens like Apple's Retina displays, mobile phones and tablets have a lot more pixels. It's harder to compress video while taking advantage of all those pixels.

Some of those new pixels are on Apple's latest smartphones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Opera Mini 9 now is tuned to work specifically with those phones' screens, Opera said.