Opera’s WebKit-Based Android Browser Exits Beta To Battle Apps For Users’ Attention

Browser maker Opera’s first WebKit browser has exited beta. The full launch for the browser previously code-named Ice adds a few additional minor updates to the meaty feature-set demoed at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow back in February.

The new updates in this full launch version of the Android browser are as follows:

  • Toggle navigation bar from top to bottom
  • Wrap text when you zoom
  • View active tabs in full screen
  • Search and navigate with a responsive address bar

The Android browser represents a huge shift for Opera as it moves its business from technical development to product-focused development, leaving its Presto framework behind and adopting the de facto standard WebKit engine, plus Chromium — a move Opera confirmed in February. Update: Since then Google has announced it’s forking WebKit as Blink. Opera confirmed to TechCrunch that while the current version of its Android browser is built on WebKit/Chromium 26 it will be moving to Blink once it arrives in the Chromium code (due in Chromium 28, it says).

At the time of its WebKit switch announcement, Opera argued then that ditching Presto and adopting WebKit frees up its engineers to focus on product development in a bid to stand out in the increasingly homogenous smartphone browser space.

The other issue for browser makers is that they are fighting with apps for users’ eyeballs. Research put out by mobile analytics firm Flurry in April found that U.S. Android and iOS owners spend an average of 80% of their time within apps, and just a fifth (20%) within mobile browsers. Moving the needle back in the direction of the browser is Opera’s goal here.

Key features of Opera’s Android browser include a content discovery feed that can be accessed by swiping right from the home screen — a feature clearly designed to encourage users to spend more time inside the browser, and less time using social networks and apps like Twitter which also incorporates a  personalised discovery feed to try to keep users within its apps, supplementing its even stickier social content.

Opera has also leveraged its data compression expertise for the Android browser with an “off-road” mode that can be toggled on to reduce data consumption in order to improve browser performance when network coverage is poor, or lower data costs when roaming.

Gestures and a light coloured user interface round out Opera’s offering here. According to Google Play the browser has had between 10 million and 50 million downloads in the past 30 days, and appears to be sustaining users’ interest with no sign of a big drop in interest yet. Its Google Play rating is currently 4.5 stars with close to 350,000 ratings.

Screengrabs below.