Opera Adds Free Apps To Its Android Data Savings App Opera Max

Last year mobile browser company Opera launched Opera Max, a data-compressing Android app that let users save money on their mobile data. Now, to drive more usage of the product, Opera is adding another feature to Max: apps you can use for free.

App Pass, as the service is called, is aimed first at users in emerging markets, where smartphone adoption is booming, but the average smartphone user is more sensitive to price, and mobile data still costs more on average than it does in developed markets like the U.S. and Europe, leading to very little actual usage of the smartphones’ “smart” features.

For now, Opera is rolling it out first with Telenor, the Norwegian carrier that operates mobile networks in countries in Asia like Vietnam and Myanmar. Opera says the Telenor will first run a pilot with short-term passes to see how the service is used.

“We’re eager to see how this service is received in our markets. App Pass is designed to give customers easy control over costs related to data usage. The challenge of so-called ‘bill shock’ is high on our agenda, and these kinds of initiatives from Opera play an important part in addressing the issue,” said Rolv-Erik Spilling, Head of Telenor Digital, in a statement.

Over time Opera hopes to get this to other markets, too. “We think that buying mobile data could be easier and more fun in any market regardless of where you are or what operator network you are on,” a spokesperson says.

Initially App Pass will be set up with a selection of apps that users can access without any data charges — that is, without having a data plan, or without cutting into a data plan a user may have. Later on, Opera says it will introduce sponsored App Passes, as well a priced feature, where you can pay a flat fee to access a bundle of apps. As with the bigger Opera Max app, all App Pass app usage passes through the Opera network.

For those who may be wondering, I’ve asked and have confirmed that this is not the same App Pass that Sprint launched last year in the U.S., although they do sound a lot alike.

That product, developed with Canadian company Mobiroo, gives users a 14-day free trial of a selection of apps, and then users pay $4.99 each month as a flat fee for unlimited access to that bundle of apps (not unlike the feature Opera will roll out down the line). For its part, Mobiroo, which works with Softbank and others, also offers its services in Asia, but using a different brand — “All you can app.”

And Sprint and Opera are not the only ones looking at ways of zero-rating data access for apps. Facebook, through Internet.org (which Opera is also involved in), offers free mobile Internet access for selected apps in poorer countries, with the most recent launch being this month in India.

FreedomPop in the U.S. has app plans where apps that are sponsored are free to access, and users can pay low fees for specific a la carte app access, too.

In all, in poorer countries where you have billions of consumers switching to smartphones, now the challenge is to get them to use the devices for more than just simple texts and phone calls. Zero rating app usage is a strategy that continues to grow in popularity as a way to do that.

Opera, of course, is trying to position it as a win-win for carriers, too, who can now run sponsorships for app access. They jury may still be out about whether the revenues a carrier collects on a marketing campaign will ever be as high as the tariffs they might have collected by charging for data access, but in markets where no one is using data, carriers’ hands are somewhat forced.

It also helps Opera grow usage of Opera Max, which to date has had less than 1 million installs. “App Pass builds upon Opera’s achievements with Opera Web Pass and Sponsored Web Pass in making mobile data affordable and easy to use for end users. With App Pass, consumers can enjoy their favorite apps and try out new ones with just two clicks, using the Opera Max client already on their devices,” said Opera CEO Lars Boilesen in a statement.

Updated with further comment from Opera