Mobile browser company continues to defy the odds with new deals for its software, and extends advertising platform too
It would have been easy to write off Norway’s Opera Software a few years ago, as its signature mobile product was squeezed by the rise of smartphones with their own default browsers.
But the company has adapted in two ways. It has made the resource-efficient Opera Mini into the browser of choice for low end handsets, as seen in Microsoft’s launch of a new Nokia Android cellphone, the Nokia X2, this week. Rather than sporting Nokia’s own slimline browser, acquired in 2010 with Novarra, or a Microsoft offering, the X2 has Opera as its default.
The second Opera strategy has been to extend its products to create a whole mobile web and advertising platform, particularly targeted at its most important source of growth, emerging market mobile operators. It works closely with some big names, such as India’s Reliance, promising carriers an own-branded web experience that delivers all the key services, but without massive inhouse development, and with support for low end handsets. This week, Opera made the latest in a string of acquisitions to fill out its platform, buying AdColony to boost its Mediaworks offering.
The choice of Opera as the default browser for the X2, the second generation of Nokia’s Android phones, shows how powerful the product has become at the lower end of the smartphone spectrum, given that Nokia invested heavily in its own technology after acquiring Novarra (this just backs up the view that Nokia should have acquired Opera back then). The Android version of Opera is wells suited to devices with low levels of memory, processing power or connectivity speed, because of the Opera Turbo facility, which compresses most of the data on the server side or in the cloud, before delivering the page (Novarra had innovated in similar ways, as has Amazon with Silk).
In other ways, the X2 is more Microsoft-oriented. Many observers expected the Windows giant to kill the Nokia Android family, which was launched just ahead of the acquisition of the Finnish firm’s once-mighty devices unit – almost like a last act of independence. But Microsoft appears to see the value of a low cost device which can tap into the hated Android ecosystem and reach users which Windows Phone cannot. At least it can put its own services, rather than Google’s, in the forefront of the user experience, with Outlook, Skype and OneDrive all preinstalled, and others like Bing Search and OneNote available for download.
The X2, which runs on Android 4.3, promises “major enhancements to the user interface”, creating a distinctive Microsoft/Nokia experience – reminiscent of that on the Lumia Windows Phone models, and virtually free of Google apps. Among the changes are support for three types of screens “to facilitate navigation”; a version of the distinctive Windows Phone resizeable tiles for the homescreen; a Fastlane feature for rapid access to recently used apps and calendar items; and a “Lumia-inspired apps list” for pinning items to the homescreen.
The X2 has a 4.3-inch screen and 5-megapixel camera, and runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor. It will initially be available in a dual-SIM version, from next month, with several color choices and a suggested retail price of €99.
Back with Opera, the firm will pay up to $350m for AdColony, which it says will turn its advertising offering, Mediaworks, into a more comprehensive platform for advertisers and publishers. AdColony is a significant player in the emerging mobile video ad space and its CEO, Will Kassoy, will continue in that role while also becoming CMO for Mediaworks as a whole.
Opera CEO Lars Boilesen said in a statement: “Opera is growing rapidly and we are constantly looking for opportunities to bring best-of-breed services to the market. This acquisition will augment our services with a robust specialization around mobile video – the fastest growing segment within the mobile advertising industry.”