We came, we saw, and we're still scratching our heads over what Opera is up to with its Mobile World Congress demonstration of its Opera Mini browser running on the iPhone 3GS. But before we get into that, let's talk performance: it's fast. Opera Mini is very, very fast on the iPhone. Loading the New York Times, for example, was about 5x faster than loading the same page in the iPhone 3GS' stock browser. Pages loaded smoothly and were interactive just as quickly as the content began to load -- not unlike the Safari browsing experience. From a functionality standpoint, Opera Mini operates exactly as it does on other, less-contentious platforms. So while double-tap to zoom is supported, pinch-to-zoom is not. The iPhone version does, however, remember the state of the browser when you exit Opera Mini. As such, you'll find your tabs and recent pages right where they were when you last used the app.
The impressive performance gain has to do with how Opera Mini works. First, it's not doing any rendering of the pages or code processing locally. Web pages are processed by Opera's servers before sending just the results to the iPhone. Not only does this speed up the local processing but it also limits the amount of data sent -- a potential big money saver for people browsing while data roaming (like us in Barcelona) or for those without unlimited data plans.
Unfortunately, Opera refused to let us or anyone photograph the app or take any video of it in action. We couldn't even photograph the Opera icon in the launch bar or the wallpaper adorned with the Opera logo. Why? It looks just like Opera Mini beta on any other device so it's not like we're exposing any competitive intelligence. And it's not like Opera would be violating any Apple NDA related to the SDK or the app approval process. Unfortunately, Opera was unable to give us a valid reason other than, "you just can't."
So why is Opera making such a fuss about this before it has even submitted to Apple for approval? We have three theories that we discussed with Igor Netto, Senior Product Manager within Opera's Mobile group. Click through if you like conspiracies.