Opera Co-founder Explains Why iPhone Users Deserve a Choice

JvTOpera is an intriguing company. While it holds only around 2 percent global PC browser market share, the company nonetheless is a key driver of web standards and user interface innovation. The company enjoys a somewhat different role in the video game console and mobile industry. Opera’s browsers for the Nintendo Wii and DSi make it one of the video game industry’s top browser makers. And in the mobile sector Opera Mini and Mobile currently are the most used browsers.

With a major leadership change — co-founder and long-time CEO Jon von Tetzchner stepping down to assume a strategic role and Lars Boilesen becoming CEO — we had been meaning to catch more thoughts from Opera for some time now. And with Opera’s huge announcement today that it was trying to get Opera Mini approved for the iPhone it seemed like a great time to catch up with the company.

The following is our unabridged interview with Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner:

DailyTech: For those who haven’t heard, Opera announced some huge news today. Opera, who currently holds the worldwide mobile browser lead is coming to the iPhone. To our knowledge the Apple software agreements forbid third-party browsers not built on webkit. How did you get Mini (which is built on a Java API and uses the Presto layout engine) past Apple?

Jon von Tetzchner: We have not submitted Opera Mini so far. However, we are convinced that Apple will welcome quality software to their platform. Opera Mini is the worlds most popular mobile browser and users on the iPhone deserve a choice.

DailyTech: Originally it seemed like Opera Mobile was for higher end phones and Opera Mini was for older models. Now Opera seems to be headed away from that, putting Mini on the Blackberries and now the iPhone. What’s Opera’s current scheme for Mini/Mobile and why does it still make sense to have two separate mobile browser lines?

JvT: The two browsers are different. Opera Mini is a smaller browser and generally faster on slow connections. Opera Mobile has more capabilities. Both of them now share the same user interface and both share the same rendering engine, but in the case of Opera Mini the rendering is done on our servers.

We find that some users prefer Opera Mini while others prefer Opera Mobile. We believe both would be great for the iPhone, but we have chosen Opera Mini, with focus on speed.

DailyTech: How do you feel the new Opera Mini version stacks up to Safari on the iPhone? What are its key strengths?

JvT: Opera Mini is a very rich browser, but the first significant difference is seen in speed. Opera Mini can be up to 6 times faster on 3G networks. This allows it to be very pleasant in use, even on slow networks. Opera Mini also has plenty of useful functionality, including speed dial, tabbed browsing, etc. Overall Opera Mini gives a fast and powerful browsing experience.

Opera Mini also saves money while roaming, as it compresses data by up to 90%.

DailyTech: On an entirely different topic, you’ve been going through a major role transition at Opera, moving out of the chief executive role and into a strategy role, from what we’ve gathered. Tell us a little bit about the new division of responsibilities.

JvT: Yes, after 15 years as CEO, I have chosen to have a more flexible role. This allows me to focus more on the things that interest me the most, while leaving the general administration to Lars Boilesen.

This means I spend more time on discussing strategy, product directions and marketing. I also get to spend more time with employees and users of Opera. The energy we have in the company is second to none and the dedication as well. We all want to make better browsers and services for our users.

DailyTech: It must be exciting to get back closer to development and the products that have made your company a key player in the mobile, desktop, and console markets. Tell us a bit about it.

JvT: Very exciting indeed! I have always spent time with the products, but with no administrative work, I can spend much more time on this. Things are moving quickly now and it is very exciting to see the improvements being made in all our products and the innovation from the team.

DailyTech thanks Jon von Tetzchner for taking the time to speak with us and share his thoughts with our readers.