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A Night at the Opera - And Back

I believed in Opera for iPhone. Really, I did.

I’ve always pictured the folks at Opera like a bunch of guys who were striving to create a good, alternative yet standard compliant browser that could show people around the world that developing an alternative browser was possible, and that developing a good alternative browser was possible too. This is not an attack to the Mac or Windows versions of Opera: those are good browsers, even though they have their problems. Especially Opera for Mac, whose interface has been designed by Jon Hicks, has finally started to feel native and snappy on Apple computers. But what happened yesterday - and what’s been happening for the past 2 months actually - is very sad. So sad that looking back, it’s ridiculous.

Opera for iPhone is ridiculous. As Gruber pointed out today, I can’t imagine anyone but iPhone Edge users finding this thing useful. And guess what, Apple is even dropping support for those iPhones.

Opera for iPhone is ridiculous because seems to be stuck in the pre ’00s era and it perfectly shows what mobile browsers shouldn’t be nowadays: a buggy agglomerate of useless features, poor UI choices and bad user experience. It’s the Anti Software. It’s the Anti App by definition, what Apple doesn’t want to see running on their devices. It’s a bunch of crap thrown together, covered with a big red O and submitted for approval.

The fact that Opera made the approval waiting so public is a clear sign of what they wanted to do since the beginning: they wanted to indirectly put themselves against Apple, taking the role of the good guys who submitted their app but, unfortunately, were discriminated because of their alternative nature. They subtly told people Apple didn’t want alternatives to Safari into the App Store and for a second we even believed them. Some people actually believed them for 2 months. But that countdown thing made me think. I mean, if you’re really serious and confident about what you’re doing, you don’t need to make it so public. You don’t need to write press releases announcing that you submitted the app and you don’t even need to put a clock on your website allowing people to make predictions and enter a contest. Imagine Marco Arment putting a clock on his website every time he submits a new version of Instapaper. Hell, imagine every developer putting a clock for each app and we all would be in a paint of Dali. But this is different, right? Opera is a well known browser that has decided to enter the App Store and of course they needed to make it public. Not in this way.

The way I see it, Opera did all of this for marketing purposes. They wanted their name to get out amongst iPhone users who usually don’t give a shit about web standards and proxies. They wanted casual people like my friends to come to me and say “Hey, I read there’s this new browser  that has replaced Safari”. They ultimately wanted to release Opera and trend on Twitter. Guess what, mission accomplished. Opera is now the first free app in the App Store and everyone I know online has at least talked about it once.

Fortunately, most everyone I know online hates Opera Mini for iPhone, which is actually called “Opera Mini Web Browser” just, again, for marketing purposes. This is very sad (really? Putting the words “web browser” to appear more times in search results?) and ridiculous (seriously you called it “Opera Mini Web Browser”?)

The app itself, just like the intentions, is crap. I don’t want to write a review (but there are some great posts about it anyway) but let me just say that zoom doesn’t work and it uses Helvetica in every page. Oh and let me add that tabs are the stupidest thing ever implemented (at least in this way) and that you can’t read any page unless you zoom which, again, doesn’t work because it’s not granular. So basically you can’t read. Take a look at MacStories, Daring Fireball and TechCrunch using Opera and you’ll see. Not to mention the user interface, which takes the iPhone guidelines to another level. A level that doesn’t get along with what Apple decided for the iPhone, and that demonstrates how Opera just wanted to land on the iPhone no matter how bad the app was. This program - I’m not calling it an “app” anymore - makes Mobile Safari feel special and magical.

Which leads me to my final point: didn’t Opera expect to get such a backlash from people after a few days? Sure they did and I tell you what - they like it. They like it because no matter how you talk about something you’re talking anyway, and the name gets out there. People download the program for curiosity, to see what’s all the noise about. I don’t think the guys at Opera are so stupid to not see that their browser sucks. They’re smart, and they know that the majority of users won’t see the problems that we see and will keep using their browser, thus making them happy because there are 100 more people everyday to include in the next press release. But on the other hand, my last hope is that they didn’t want all this, they were so damn dumb to think such a thing would work and now they’re working to improve it. Probably not.

Until the next press release, take care Opera. I’m back to my un-proxied browser.

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