Default Wars : Battle of the browsers

10 07 2010

In a number of upcoming posts, I will be looking at suitable replacements for the default apps that come preloaded on your iOS device. In this first battle, of many, I look at what alternatives that users have when it comes to browsers.

Ever since the iPhone has been conceived, there has been only one way to experience the web, and that was through Safari. With the rise of the Android platform, and the relatively open approach to apps,the control that Apple has exercised over the Appstore has been highlighted. There have been a low grumbling for awhile, from developers and users alike, about the lack of browsers for the platform. While this has improved, with the introduction of other browser apps such as mini Browser Pro, sphere web browser and the yet to be approved Firefox sync app ,that allows you to transfer your bookmarks, passwords and history from your computer to your iPhone and iPod Touch. However essentially, they are merely adding functionality or a different user experience to the Safari browser, since they are still founded upon the webkit technology that powers Safari. As a result, these applications merely add minor features that Safari lacked, rather than providing speed increases or a totally new experience.

The first real alternative browser app for the iOS platform emerged from browsing giants, Opera, who had been demoing the Opera Mini app on an iPhone as early as January 2010. However, many doubted that such an app would be approved by Apple, since the Opera browser posed a serious threat to Apple’s mobile Safari. To increase the pressure on Apple, and to draw attention to the app approval process, Opera posted a cheeky ‘count up’ from the time they submitted the app to Apple for approval. The tactic worked, with the App being approved after 20 days, 8 hours and 31 minutes, and Opera Mini became the first alternative browser for iOS users.

The Basics

Category: Productivity

Release Date: 11 May 2010

Seller: Opera Software ASA

Price: Free

Size: 1.0 mb

Version: 5.0.2

Requires: Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Required iOS 2.2.1 or later

The Review

Opera mini has an entirely new approach and is far removed from the Safari user interface, since it features the classic Opera red and dark grey ascents with a much heavier emphasis on a visual approach to the interface, which is extended across all aspects of the browser. This different approach can be exemplified in the different ways that the two browser take on displaying settings. Safari’s setting are text based and contained within the iPhone settings section, while Opera’s are accessed within the browser and they are split down into sections through the use of icons.

The most striking use of the visual approach is the speed dial, which is the first thing that is presented to the user when you open the browser. The speed dial provides you with a large visual approach, from which you can quickly access and manage your bookmarks. Tabs are handled in a similar way, with them being easily accessed from the bottom navigation bar. Each tab is represented with a small screenshot of the page, however unlike Safari, you can move tabs by simply holding and dragging them around each other.

The main feature on which Opera mini is promoted, and perhaps the key deciding factor on whether you pick Opera or Safari, is speed. Rather than use webkit, the technology behind mobile Safari, Opera is powered by their own in house compression software. In effect the software compresses websites and the data, allowing the browser to perform at higher speeds, while not compromising the experience. The Opera rendering engine can cope with anything you throw at it, meaning that you won’t encounter any unsightly checkerboards while flicking through content at high speed. I personally found that Opera mini was faster when on 3G, however was slightly slower when using it on my home WiFi network. Obviously this is going vary from person to person. Below is a speed test comparing the two browsers.

Graph from Lifehacker

One similarity that Opera shares with Safari is along the top, with the address bar on the left, and the Google search bar to the right. Begin typing into the address bar, and Opera will begin suggesting websites, from your history, as you input text. However this is where the similarities end, with the differences even extending down into how you select and copy text. Opera does away with the default text options and opts for a longer hold to bring up the ‘select, copy, paste’, which isn’t as intuitive.

Opera has a number of other features, such as the ability to save pages for later reference, or more importantly, offline viewing. Another good feature is that of Opera link which helps bridge the gap between the desktop browsing experience and that on the handheld device. The free service, which require an account, allows users to sync bookmarks, speed dial sites and history between your Opera browser, and Opera mini. The notion of closing the gap between the desktop and mobile experience is becoming increasingly popular, with many programs offering services that help merge the experiences together. Opera link isn’t the only synchronization tool, since Firefox recently submitted their app, Firefox sync, to Apple for approval.

Some people have criticized the approach that Opera has taken when displaying webpages. Upon loading a page, it displays the content in a zoomed out view, so you can see the webpage in it’s entirety. Touching an area of a webpage causes Opera to quickly zoom in, bringing the content into focus. Users have complained about this approach, however, I believe that they maybe missing the point. The idea is that the zoomed out view gives the user a vantage point from which they can view the site. They can then decide upon how they want to interact with the site and then select the appropriate area and zoom in. This will help save time when compared with Safari, since if a user wanted to engage with content at the bottom of a webpage, they would have to take time to scroll to the bottom. An Opera mini user, can see the content from afar, and one touch of the screen takes them to the content.

Conclusion : Overall, Opera mini is a great alternative to mobile Safari, especially when you are attempting to surf the web without a WiFi connection. Opera Mini isn’t suppose to provide a desktop browsing experience; instead it focuses upon usability and speed, which is achieved through a combination of technology, such as the compression software, and features, such as Opera link. Unfortunately, at the moment you won’t be able to fully replace Safari as the default browser, since iOS opens links that are within mail and other apps in Safari. However, Opera Mini matches Safari in terms of usability, and beats it terms of speed and feature set. Considering the app is free, and only 1.0 mb, all users should find room for Opera mini on their device.

Rating :

+ Compression software improves browsing speed

+ Great features set

+ Easy to use

+ A quality alternative to Safari, that’s free

End result of the first Default War : 1-0 to alternative apps

Like Opera Mini? – You may like…



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4 responses

14 07 2010
Success Ladder

Very interesting article, thanks. Keep up the good work.

14 07 2010
appjudge

Thank you. A number of new posts are being worked on. Stay tuned!

31 07 2010
zadum4ivaja

I would like to exchange links with your site appjudge.wordpress.com
Is this possible?

1 08 2010
appjudge

I have emailed you regarding this. Thanks

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