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It takes something special to carve a niche for yourself, when your rivals are the likes of Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome and Safari. And yet, that is exactly what Norway-based Opera has done over the years. The company has gone multi-platform, making its browsers available on a host of devices, and is known for its innovation. Today, Opera Mini is perhaps the most popular third party mobile browser in the world and its desktop browser is going from strength to strength. Nimish Dubey caught up with Jon S von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Opera, to find out about the company’s plans and what keeps it ticking.
Opera began as a small start-up more than a decade ago and has come a long way since. To what do you attribute its success?
Opera is built on the belief that the Internet is a tremendous resource for all humans, anywhere in the world. The original idea behind the company was to create a better, more engaging way of using the Internet. Accessibility is a key component of that vision. You shouldn’t need a fancy, top-notch computer with expensive software to create, publish or view/interact with content, online.
Therefore, Opera’s Web browser has always been small, flexible and extremely efficient. It runs on any platform, anywhere in the world. As a result, Opera was able to create the market for accessing the Web on portable devices (not just WAP pages but any HTML page) in 1999. Today, Opera is the market leader in providing the best Internet experience on any device.
You keep talking about the One Web. Could you explain the concept for our readers?
At Opera, we believe that people want to access the same services and content wherever they are and whatever device they’re using. They simply want the ability to reach the enormous mass of information out there - with no limitations. The idea behind our “One Web” vision is that the industry should avoid creating new variations of the Internet, in an attempt to cater to new platforms. We strongly believe that mobile-specific variations such as WAP and .mobi are harmful to the proliferation of the Web on new platforms. The user experience is so inferior to the real Internet that it will be a turn-off for most people.
You started out as a company known for developing browsers for computers. Today, you are known for your products on mobiles as well as on desktops. What was the thought behind the decision to develop a browser for mobiles?
Creating a mobile version of Opera was a natural extension of our original idea of making the Web available to anyone, anywhere. Due to Opera’s small size, its standards-compliance and resource efficiency, it was fairly easy for us to start investigating how our browser could run on very limited hardware with small screens. The first device we ran Opera on was a Psion device, back in 1999/2000. This was the first step towards today’s mega-trend of going online from a mobile phone.
Today, Opera is shipped on hundreds of new mobile phone models every year. We have leading customers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, T-Mobile, TATA, Vodafone and others.
Do you think, as many do, that mobile phones will replace desktops and notebooks as the main means of accessing the Web in the years to come?
We don’t think mobile phones will replace desktops and notebooks. What we’ll see is more variety within the portable computing space. The so-called netbooks (tiny laptop computers) are incredibly popular right now, because they give you the power of a computer in a very portable format. We believe we’ll see more products and more innovation in this space in the years to come.
When that’s said, it’s important to understand how much bigger the mobile phone market is versus desktops and laptops, in number of units sold. In some countries, such as South Africa, India, Russia and Indonesia, we are observing how many people use mobile phones as their primary (and often only) method of going online. So there’s no doubt that the Internet is becoming a very portable part of our lives.