Opera Software ASA has bowed to mobile operator and handset vendor pressure by announcing a port of its highly-regarded mobile web browser for the Windows Smartphone platform. But the Oslo, Norway-based company does not expect handsets based on Microsoft’s software to become mass market products.
The software, which is currently in development, is not expected to be seen on devices based on Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphones until the first or second quarter 2005, according to Opera’s EVP marketing and strategic alliances, Rolf Assev.
However, when it does appear, the software will most likely emerge as a built-in feature of new cell phones than as a download from Opera’s website. Instead, the Smartphone version of Opera will be deployed as part of the Opera Platform bundle, Assev told ComputerWire.
The Opera Platform, launched in October 2003, tightly integrates the company’s mobile browser with the local applications on the device and mobile operator content, creating a customizable desktop for smart phones from which applications can be initiated. User interface customization has become a primary concern for mobile operators, which want to offer a consistent, branded look and feel to applications and services across their handset range.
Basically, there are operators and handset manufacturers that have requested a port of Opera [to Windows Smartphone]. One way for operators to have one user interface is to use the Opera Platform, Assev said.
Opera appears to be in a strong position to capitalize on the demand for customizable handset software, although it faces stiff competition from handset software rivals Openwave Systems and Access Co.
Versions of the Opera Platform are in preparation for the majority of the non-proprietary handset platforms currently in use, offering operators a single product usable across much of the handset spectrum. These include all versions of the Symbian operating system (OS), mobile Linux, Qualcomm’s BREW platform and the commonly-used micro-Itron mobile handset OS.
A version of the Opera browser for Windows Smartphone further extends this platform coverage and provides additional technology benefits over Microsoft’s own mobile web browser, Pocket Internet Explorer.
Microsoft has been having difficulties with its own browser. They’ve been using IE 3.1 for a long time. Up against Microsoft’s own browser, Opera has a good chance, said Assev.
Despite its belated conversion to Microsoft’s mobile platforms, Opera remains less than convinced by the potential of Windows Smartphone in the mass market. We still do not think Microsoft will play a major role in mobile phones, said Assev. They will have a role in high-end, small volume devices but they are coming more from the computer [side of the market]. Most people keen on these phones will be those that want to connect them up to enterprise systems.
Assev told ComputerWire there is a possibility Opera will develop a version of its web browser for Microsoft’s other Windows Mobile variant, the PDA-centric Pocket PC, although it is not yet decided if this will happen.
First of all we’ll make a port for Smartphone and then look at how much work it is to port to Pocket PC, he said.