Whenever Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about the company’s soon-to-be released iPhone, you can guarantee he’ll mention the device’s Internet capabilities. Like a doting father he boasts, this isn’t the “baby” web, this is the real thing — never seen before on a mobile phone. From the very first time Jobs made such a claim, I felt (in fact I knew) he was being disingenuous. Nokia’s Series 60-based handsets run a full web browser based on Apple’s own WebKit source code — something which Jobs would be well aware of. However, one thing the iPhone can claim to be doing is raising the bar of what consumers can expect from the mobile web — after years of industry hype and bitter disappointment.
Enter Opera’s new version of its mobile web browser: Opera Mini version 4. The upgraded software (currently in Beta) brings in a whole host of features which will naturally bring about comparisons to the iPhone’s browser.
First up is ‘desktop view’ which enables a full browser experience where you can view a zoomed-out impression of a web page, and then similar to the version that runs on Ninendo’s DS game console (and Nokia’s own browser) you can move around the page in a series of tiles, and then zoom-in and interact with that portion of the page.
Opera has also implimented its own virtual mouse to make it easy to scroll in any direction. The mouse cursor will look for content and links, and snap the view to them.
Two features that I’m not sure are new but are worth mentioning are column view and Opera’s use of a proxy server. In column view, the structure of a web page is changed into a single vertical column, removing the need to scroll horizontally while browsing. Depending on the size of your mobile phone’s screen, this is a must-have option. Additionally, in order to conserve bandwidth and make pages load faster, Opera passes content through its own servers first, where images and other data are optimised for a mobile Internet connection.
Opera Mini 4 looks like a major improvement over the previous version, and pre-empts the launch of the iPhone nicely. Having said that, the company’s paradody of Apple’s Get a Mac ad campaign — Opera Mini vs iPhone — is embrassingly executed.