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Opera moves into phone content integration business

A bit like OpenWave, but a bit not...

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Opera is moving further into the mobile phone arena with the announcement of the Opera Platform for network operators and handset manufacturers. The Platform uses the Opera browser to integrate local applications, the browser itself and online content and services from the network operator, which in summary means that the company is pitching for the 'tailored user experience' market being pursued by the likes of OpenWave.

Although curiously, the company doesn't consider that's it's going into competition with OpenWave. Nor, when we talked to OpenWave a few months back, did that company consider Opera to be a competitor.

There are certainly differences between the offerings. OpenWave pitches complete suites that manufacturers and network operators can use to make the handset look entirely their own, as opposed to the more rigorously-policed user experience available from the more self-important handset manufacturers. This is attractive to both the networks, who wish to differentiate their products, and to challengers in the handset market, and the Vodafone Live/Sharp double-up is a good example of this in action. Opera's bid, meanwhile, is more a case of viewing the browser as 'where you live' and then using it as the framework in which you view the output of continually updating local and remote services.

So it's a potentially narrower approach, although its narrowness is obviously variable depending on the nature and quantity of the stuff you're going to be putting through the browser.

Opera doesn't view OpenWave as being in the smartphone market "at all", which in our estimation is a somewhat outdated perception. OpenWave certainly targets low- to mid-range, high volume, but that's a moving target. Says Opera: "Our impression is that they have neglected their browser client development for too long, therefore falling behind now that full Web access is becoming a requirement for Smartphones. They are instead focusing on their server business and the new v7 suite. They might be successful in providing a platform for mid- to low-end devices, but then they are not really competing with us at the moment."

So competition here depends on where you draw the mass-market/smartphone boundary, and on the differences in approach. Opera isn't offering a complete end-to-end experience (including server end), so it could conceivably co-exist, and adding the Opera Platform to an OpenWave-based solution might even turn out to be a rational route for some networks to take.

In any event, Opera is currently in demo mode, with the statutory 'interested' potential customers, but no actual signings, so given lead times the earliest we can expect shipping products is next year.

And if like us you thought the Opera Platform sounded just a little bit like Symbian's Magpie, which Opera is also allegedly involved in, here's what Opera says is the difference: "The Magpie concept is primarily about integrating online content in local apps, e.g. having a teaser for todays weather forecast at top of each calendar day. When you click on it the full story would open in the browser application.... But the main difference is that the browser is extended so that information from local applications can be included in the same screen, e.g. phone status, new messages, calendar appointments etc."

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