Opera Mini on the iPhone, for now

So, today(2010-04-13) it was announced that Opera Mini for the iPhone had been accepted by Apple and indeed it was revealed in the Appstore within a few hours.

Many have written on the loophole that Opera used to make this happen; Opera mini isn't technically a browser, it can probably be more accurately described as a remote image viewer. The browser sends out a request for a URI to the Opera proxy servers who then pull down the requested page, and let Javascript run for up to 2 seconds to build out any Web 2.0 goodness on the page. The server then renders the resultant HTML (I assume, judging by the rendering discontinuities, with their very own layout engine) to an image which is then sent back to your mobile device as a pixelated rendition of the web page you asked for.

[caption id="attachment_272" align="alignnone" width="320" caption="Questionable Recursion"][/caption]

More, however than an image is returned to your phone, data about active regions on the page are also sent back allowing you to touch links, or even "interact" with Javascript powered widgets. Touch one of these active elements and the server again clatters into action, churning and whirring to grab HTML, execute script, and render a sepia image of the website for view through its dirty little port hole.

This does mean that even though you don't get any nice sliding or swooshing Javascript animations they are replaced with a faithful approximation of the animation's final state. This can, understandably, cause sites to have a jumpy and jarring, if fast, feel. However, touch a Javascript widget in Safari and you're greeted with a nice slide or fade, not by a URL bar as Opera mini does, yet another, web request to have a server run the script only to show you the final frame of the animation.

Unfortunately, the last awards that this yesterday-tech browser received were before the epoch of Safari on the iPhone. Compared to the sorry state of the browser on my BlackBerry, yes, this is a nice change; but it just doesn't deliver the experience that people expect on contemporary devices, let alone a Safari commensurate experience that is already present on the iPhone.

Now this is all fine and good, if this web experience speaks to you; but is this just Steve having fun with Opera? Something akin to the poison pill that he force fed Adobe and others in the as-yet-to-be-released iPhone OS 4 developer agreement?

The thing is, Opera, like any good software developer, likes to make maximum reuse of it's code. Case in point, their Android version of Opera mini, instead of rewriting their software to work with the OS, they rewrote the OS; they went as far as implementing a J2ME translation layer for Android to allow their browser to run unmodified.

Now, it is difficult to tell if Opera Mini on the iPhone is using native widgets, they all have a kind of an uncanny valley look to them, and there is explicit evidence against them being native. For one, try doing a copy and paste operation, this is definitely not the native iPhone OS cut and paste experience. This duality of experience is exactly what Apple is attempting to quash with their new developer agreement.

[caption id="attachment_278" align="alignnone" width="320" caption="Cut and Paste"][/caption]

Are you; a user of the original iPhone with only Edge connectivity (or running the 3G variants hacked on T-Mobile, ahem); into a jolting, pixelated web experience; yearn for the days of RIP BBSs; or an Opera fan-person? Don't mind that this experience may end abruptly when you upgrade your iPhone to OS4? Then this may be the browser for you.