Opera focusing on browsers for a range of phones

Smartphones may not be the device of choice for Internet access, Opera Software's co-founder said

Opera Software is targeting a large variety of mobile phones ranging from smartphones to less sophisticated feature phones that can connect to the Internet, as it aims at opportunities for its browser in emerging markets like India, the company's co-founder said.

The Norwegian browser company is also using its acquisition in January this year of AdMarvel, a mobile advertising platform company, to sign deals with web sites for placing targeted third-party mobile advertisements on web pages.

"Our goal is to reach as many phones as possible," Jon S. von Tetzchner said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The company's Opera Mini browser now supports over 3,000 phone models, including older-generation smartphones, because the company's strategy is to take a phone that comes its way, check out its specifications and the size of the screen, and try and work out a way for it to run Opera Mini, he said.

Opera Mini, for example, supports the Android operating system, although mobile phones using Android account for about three per cent of the market, and that is not likely to change dramatically, von Tetzchner said. The Opera Mini browser is also supported on Apple's iPhone.

Some of the company's competition are suited mainly for high-end users, which gives the Opera Mini browser an edge in the large market consisting of users of less-sophisticated phones operating on low-bandwidth connections, von Tetzchner said.

Opera said in April that it has worked with Vodafone to develop a customized version of the Opera Mini browser designed to run on low-cost handsets on 2G networks.

There is no need to have a smartphone in order to connect to the Internet, said von Tetzchner who said that he used for about three years a feature phone from Nokia to browse the web.

In Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia, more than 90 per cent of 18- to 27-year-olds use mobile phones as their primary means to access the Internet, even though smartphones are not widely used, according to results of a survey of Opera Mini users that was released in November by the company.

Key to Opera Software's strategy for the low-end phone market is the use of compression technology that reduces the bandwidth usage by mobile phones users, von Tetzchner said. In the case of Opera Mini, the core browser engine is located on a server, which transcodes the web pages so that they can be viewed on a small client.

People primarily want to browse the web when they are on the Internet, which is the reason why Opera is focusing on improving its browser, von Tetzchner said.

Although some phone operating systems include a browser, such as iPhone and Android, Opera will stay focused on its browser rather than invest in operating systems and other software. "We want to do one thing really well," von Tetzchner said. The company is not sure it is required to build the rest of the system, when its browser is getting shipped anyway, he added.

The opportunities for Opera are growing as the user base of mobile phones and their data usage is increasing, von Tetzchner said.

Opera touched 150 million users for all its browsers at the beginning of this month.

Besides revenue-sharing deals with operators who have seen a boost in data traffic and revenue because of the Opera browser, the company is also working on revenue sharing deals with owners of content and services that would be relevant to users, von Tetzchner said.

Following the AdMarvel acquisition, Opera is also working on deals with web site owners for placing advertisements on their sites. A web site that would like to have mobile-specific advertisements can put a tag on the page, and the tag will then be replaced by a third-party advertisement that can be targeted at specific segments of users and mobile phones in specific geographies, von Tetzchner said.

"We have the information to be able to provide targeted ads, but definitely not too targeted, because we don't want to mess with our users' privacy," von Tetzchner said.

Advertisers can in turn go to the Opera system, and search the inventory after specifying the advertisement they would like to place, and the target audience.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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Tags telecommunicationapplicationsopera softwaresmartphonesPhonesPhone applicationsJon S. von TetzchnersoftwareMobile operating systemsmobileMobile handsetsconsumer electronics

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