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Interview with Opera CEO

On competition, technologies, platforms and the future of Opera

Jon S. Von Tetzchner is one of Opera's co-founders and the company's current CEO, the man who has given over 15 years of his career to this web giant - we took our chance to talk with him about Opera's business during his short visit to Russia in November and below is our very exclusive look inside Opera's plans.


Artem Lutfullin (AL): My first question concerns Opera Mobile Browser for the iPhone - there have been rumors that you do have it, but it's being held back by Apple. I'm curious whether that's really how things stand and will we ever see Opera Mobile in the AppStore?

Jon S. Von Tetzchner (JT): We haven't posted anything yet. I had an interview a while ago and I admitted there that we actually had worked on the iPhone version of Opera, but we were concerned about the license, and whether Apple would actually allow it.

AL: Do you have a version for Android in the works?

JT: We already have Opera Mini running on Android, and we also said that we were working on Opera Mobile for this OS, but there is no way you can download it, from what I understand, basically because you can't download full applications to Android, it has be pre-installed.

AL: Have some of the Android-centric phone makers agreed to use Opera as the default browser on their solutions?

JT: I can't really comment on what kind of agreements we have reached in this field, as we are still working on them. But we have seen a lot of interest so far, obviously - there are many companies working with Android, that like to offer better user experience, just like it's the case with phone makers dealing with Windows Mobile , where most phones these days come pre-installed with Opera. I mean, people want to get supreme browsing experience right out of the box and we see an opportunity in Android for our own business too.

AL: Does Opera have plans to release special versions of its browser for Internet-tablets, such as the Nokia N900?

JT: First, we can deal with devices of all sizes and form-factors, hands-down. But whether we'll provide something for Maemo remains to be seen, although I do admit it's a very easy form-factor to work with.

AL: Do you have any priorities with regard to various operating systems, or you treat all of them in the same way? If yes, which platforms get more resources these days and why?

JT: Over at Opera we have got a lot of people working on innumerable projects - I mean, we have 760 employees and a lot of them are actually engineers. What we have found is that people want to see Opera on as many platforms as possible so we're trying to oblige. And part of what we've been doing is getting Opera Mobile and Opera Mini in one boat, so to speak - if you take a good look at them, they are pretty similar. Basically, we are trying to re-use our experience, in a way.

As for our priorities, obviously there are certain differences when it comes to the amount of work one needs to do for various platforms, but we don't have any priorities worth mentioning.

AL: It's a not a secret that Opera Mini is popular even among the owners of smartphones and communicators due to its traffic compression functionality. However the recently released Opera Mobile 10 for smartphones sports this feature among all other things too. Aren't you worried that this will draw a lot of users away from Opera Mini?

JT: I suppose we should be pretty content with a situation when our biggest competitor is another Opera browser! But basically, we are happy with any choice our end-users and OEMs make.

Competition and revenue sources

AL: What browsers or software developers does Opera treat as rivals?

JT: In many ways our competitors have been going away on their own, including OpenWave that made WAP browsers, then i-Mode in Japan. So I think competition-wise there are more Webkit-browsers we are competing with than anything else. But even in this field we've got a very, very strong position.

AL: Opera has got a whole lot of free browsers in its portfolio, including a decent solution for PCs. But the question that bothers many is where does your revenue flow come from?

JT: We have 3 different business models: the one that we use for our free products is a revenue share scheme with companies like Google, Yandex and other content providers. We don't really want our end-users to pay a cent for our products, so our goal is to make almost everything free.

Then, we sell our browsers to OEMs, if they opt to get Opera for their phones, and we get paid for every unit shipped and then some more for all extra work we do.

And then the third model, that is getting more popular these days, is this - we team up with local operators (like AT&T) and serve as a major traffic-generator, so in return we get a share of revenue from all active users.

AL: Speaking of custom browser versions - as far as I know there are loads of these in Europe, but I couldn't find any here, in Russia. Why?

JT: Sometimes we retail a version of Mobile or Mini that just looks different - in other words, it's got exactly the same engine inside, but sports different look-and-feel. Or on other occasions we arm our browser with various widgets, like it's the case with Vodafone's and T-Mobile's solutions. And in this sense there is almost no difference between Russian and European operators.

AL: Does Opera have any plans to sell exclusive rights for one of its browsers (Mobile or Mini) to some phone maker, such as HTC or Nokia?

JT: The list of our partners is actually so long that it'd be much easier to name those we don't work with. We don't want to get into exclusivity, as we'd much rather make sure our browser is included into as many phones as possible. But there have been some requests about exclusive relationships with Opera, I won't deny that.


AL: Are you going to expand the functionality of mobile browsers through widgets?

JT: People can make Widgets that run on top of Opera Mobile already today. And I do believe you can make serious applications using them, but I'm not going to comment on when we are going to open our browser to third-party developers - what we'll do in the future shall remain secret.

AL: Does Opera have any policy with regards to enticing users to update their browser version?

JT: Naturally, we would like people to upgrade, but it's all up to them. All we are doing is adding more features with every new features, and in reality when we released Mini 4, there were very few phones that could run Mini 3, but couldn't handle the fourth version. Nevertheless, we always have been and will keep supporting the users of old versions.

AL: I don't know how things stand in Europe, but over here, in Russia, there are several custom versions of Opera Mini that are much better than the original. What's Opera position on this issue?

JT: In general we would prefer if people used unchanged software.

AL: As far as site-rendering abilities go, Opera Mobile 10 is as close to PC-grade browsing experience as it gets, however it still has a couple of weak spots, such as flash-based games and complex pages. Will mobile browsers ever manage to match their PC siblings in all departments?

JT: I think in general the core of Opera doesn't change from browser to browser, and the problem is with plug-ins. As you know, Flash is a plug-in, handled by Adobe, so our hands are tied by its availability for certain platforms. When it's available, we try to make it work and squeeze the utmost maximum out of it. But it's important to understand that Flash is not a part of the browser, so we are dependent on Adobe on this front.


AL: Opera 10 for PC comes bundled with some exciting services (Opera Unite) - will we ever see them on mobile devices?

JT: Over time - yes. I mean, obviously there're are issues with connectivity on mobile phones, and this is really crucial for a service like Opera Unit, but we'll eventually make it work. And I guess in this case you'll have no other option but to use Opera Mobile.

AL: How do you picture the future of browsers? Will they look more like Google Chrome OS, or will they remain stand-alone applications?

JT: I think one thing we agree with Google on is that browsers are in fact application platforms, allowing you to make content, apps and services run on top of them, whether it's built into your operating system or not. Again, I don't think stand-alone browsers have any disadvantages, on the contrary they have got many strengths, such as the ability to run multiple systems and not have too tight of a connection. But as far as the core principles are concerned, we are in one camp with Google.

AL: Thank you for your time!!

JT: Thank you.

Artem Lutfullin (artem.lutfullin@mobile-review.com)
Published - 14 December 2009


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