Norwegian browser maker Opera has high hopes for the combination of mobile browsers and HTML 5, which will let web-based applications compete better with native applications, according to cofounder Jon von Tetzchner.
Today, the combination of fragmentation and native applications on smartphones is bad for both consumers and developers, von Tetzchner said in an interview. For consumers it becomes more difficult to switch to a new phone based on a different operating system and at the same time keep all of their applications, and developers almost have to start from scratch when they develop an application for different platforms, von Tetzchner said.
Using the web is an antidote to both those issues, and just like Google, Opera is betting that HTML 5 will make web-based applications more competitive compared to native applications. The browser wasn't designed to build applications, but the introduction of HTML 5 changes that, according to von Tetzchner.
"If you want to build actual applications, not websites, this matters," said von Tetzchner. Developers will be able to add rich graphics and local storage, which lets programs based on web standards work just like a native application, he said.
Implementing HTML 5 is still a work in progress, especially on mobile browsers. Opera's Mobile 10 and Mini 5 come with support for some parts of HTML 5, including graphics. However, support for important parts like video and local storage is still missing, but von Tetzchner said he wouldn't be surprised if storage is added before the end of the year.
For Opera, the first five months of 2010 were busy: It acquired mobile advertising company AdMarvel, signed a deal with Vodafone to bring mobile Internet access to inexpensive phones in developing markets and had its Mini browser approved for use on the iPhone.
That Apple approved the Opera Mini browser came as a surprise to many, but not to Opera, which after looking at Apple's SDK license was convinced that it would be approved, according to von Tetzchner.
More than 2.6 million people used Opera Mini on their iPhones in the two weeks following the April launch, according to Opera. Opera Mini for iPhone also works on the iPad, but Opera has done nothing to customise the browser for Apple's tablet, which would be a natural next step, von Tetzchner said.
Apple won't get any sympathy from Opera on two burning issues in the mobile browser world. Von Tetzchner has only good things to say about Adobe Systems, which has been quarreling with Apple about Flash on mobile phones. Opera has a good relationship with Adobe and Flash is apart of the web, he said.
However, he isn't saying if and when the company will implement the latest version of Flash on Opera Mobile. Opera Mini won't be getting support for Flash. It speeds up browsing and consumes less data by compressing and rendering websites on Opera's servers, but that also means some things won't work, including Flash. Opera Mobile, on the other hand, connects directly to the Internet.
Opera is also a big fan of Google's open source video codec VP8, and has already implemented it on its desktop browser. "When Google chooses to buy a company for a significant amount of money and then make the codec available freely, a lot of companies have jumped," said von Tetzchner.
Today, Opera, Mozilla and Adobe are backing the codec, and even Microsoft has said that at least it won't fight it, which leaves Apple basically alone on the opposing side, he said.
As for Opera's other ventures so far this year, by buying AdMarvel and signing deals with an operator like Vodafone, the company laid the groundwork for how it will make money in the future. Operators are in a good position to use their billing relationships with subscribers to build a working m-commerce ecosystem. Buying things over a mobile phone is currently too difficult, but the operators can do something about that, according to von Tetzchner.
"The test for me is if you can order pizza and bill it to your mobile phone bill," he said. For that to work, the operator either needs to become a bank or work with a bank, but that will fall into place, he said. If the users can buy things over their mobile phones, there will be revenue to share, he said.
But privacy remains an issue in the burgeoning mobile advertising market, everyone involved has to be careful when it comes to end user privacy. "We want to provide reasonably relevant ads, but... we don't want to overstep any bounds," von Tetzchner said.