As Facebook Rumors Swirl, Opera Plays Up Its Social Cred In New Opera Mini 7 Browser For ‘Basic’ Phones

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Talk about coincidence. Just earlier this week, in a post on Facebook and the possibility of buying web browsing company Opera and facial recognition company Face.com, we highlighted how a new version of Opera Mini would feature much stronger social integration — specifically aimed at the feature phone segment — both key points for Facebook. Today, Opera came good with a full release of that Opera Mini browser, Opera Mini 7 (but still has no official comment on those acquisition reports).

As expected, the new browser is aimed not at Apple and Android-based smartphones but more “basic” devices — specifically those built on Java ME, Nokia’s S60 and BlackBerry (yes, Opera categorizes RIM’s smartphone as basic). Opera is using the release to incorporate some new, key social features on a new Smart Page to increase the time spent by users on its own pages and in its browser.

The Smart Page contains several new features that are all about social browsing. For starters, it provides a one-page summary of news from a user’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, directly from the home page of the browser. Other features include links to a user’s most-visited sites; links to relevant content based on your browsing history; and suggestions for news sites to follow with the option of adding those to the Smart Page as well. The Smart Page will now also include other features Opera has long been using in past versions of its Opera browser such as Speed Dial shortcuts.

An Opera spokesperson declined to make any comment to me on the Facebook acquisition reports, but if there is even a shred of truth to them, a launch of a product like this plays right into Facebook’s hand.

Not only is the browser much more socially integrated, but it is aimed very much at the wider market of non-smartphone users, the kind used by the majority of people in developing markets, and still widely in use in mature markets, too. This is still a growing area for Facebook and a crucial one to get right as it looks to keep growing while at the same time make money out of those traditionally low-cost users.

Opera has been trialling this new version of Opera Mini since February. Opera Mini is the company’s most popular product, with 168 million monthly users and some 3,000 phone models supported. Overall the company has 250 million monthly users of its products, which also include Opera Mobile and a  browser for desktop computers.

Opera has long touted its data technology, which it says compresses pages in such a way that they load faster and take up less of your data allowance — Opera says it can compress page data by up to 90 percent.

The new launch of Opera Mini 7 fits into this concept: users need to browse less pages to get all the data they need. And given that it’s designed for phones that have little buttons and typically smaller screens, anything that minimizes navigation should be welcome.

On Opera’s side, of course, putting all this into its browser means people will spend more time there and less time going elsewhere. (Sound familiar, Facebook?)

Curiously, it looks like the germination of this product may have come straight from the top ranks, with the CEO Lars Boilesen noting his frustrations with his own (feature?) phone: “I’ve spent hours typing web addresses on my mobile phone, but now there’s a super smart way to get most of your content at a glance,” he said in a statement.