News Flash: iPhone Users Aren't Sheep

"A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love."
-- From "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," by Christopher Marlowe, 1599

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) users want to have a choice! Your coral clasps are lovely -- but they can be outshone, Mr. Jobs.

When Apple approved a Web browser for distribution through the App Store, it didn't sound like a big deal. After all, Apple's own Safari browser is pretty good and supported by Apple itself. Why would iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users flock to a replacement for an already very good component of the Apple-ordained experience?

But the replacement browser, Opera Mini, turned out to be a big hit. After more than a million installations on the first day of availability, the browser was the single-most-downloaded application in all of Apple's regional app stores across the world. Tech blog Engadget said Opera Mini "totally kicks safari out of the water" thanks to super-snappy browsing speeds, and TechCrunch points out that this app made previous popularity champs like the eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) PayPal app and the Skype Internet phone program look like slowpokes off the starting line in getting to their first million downloads. In other words, other companies can still improve on Apple's admittedly stellar software -- and users are hungry for more of that.

Opera's success on the mobile Apple platform begs the question of what a shrunken version of a better-known browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Chrome could do on the same stage. Firefox reportedly has a version of Firefox planned for Android later this year, and I could see Google transitioning Chrome down to the small screen. I'm not talking about Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Internet Explorer here, because that one is more tied to Microsoft Windows while the others are going after multiplatform opportunities with gusto.

It's also a data point that can be used to debate Steve Jobs' official stand on what belongs on his iPhones. As Jobs has alluded to in the past, Apple's hardware works best with thoroughbred Apple-made software. App Store programs are routinely rejected because they replace some standard part of the iPhone user experience with something new, which purportedly makes for a jarring, disjointed user experience. The mere fact that Opera was approved is newsworthy, and the application's enthusiastic acceptance by Apple users is tantamount to a slap in Jobs' face.

Maybe it's time for Apple to bury the hatchet with companies like Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE  ) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) subsidiary Sun Microsystems. Supporting contentious software like Adobe Flash and Sun's Java would instantly make Apple's products much more compatible with the Web as we know it, further enable its app developers, and Apple would get brownie points with its own fans for giving them a choice to install it or not.

Respect the intelligence of your users, Steve. They'll respect you back -- with their wallets, no less.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. National Poetry Month should be measured in years, maybe even decades. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple, Adobe Systems, and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of and has written puts on Oracle. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on eBay. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (7)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2010, at 11:51 AM, marv08 wrote:

    Absolutely every review of Opera Mini on the iPhone points out that the rendition is awful, the browser does not even respect the fonts used on the Web site and that it messes up the geometry of pages. Even worse: the browser does not support SSL, users have to send all passwords to Opera's servers unencrypted. Of course people download it for free - there was enough press echo. Maybe you should wait for the first statistics showing actual use before you tag it a success? I uninstalled it after 15 minutes and Internet forums are filled with people needing even less time.

    Of course, you do not understand what Opera Mini is and how it works. If you would, you would not even think about Firefox or Chrome being ported to the iPhone. Firefox and Chrome do both interpret and execute arbitrary code (e.g. Javascript) - this is not in line with the App Store requirements at all and it will never happen. Opera Mini does not interpret anything, it routes all page requests through Opera's proxy servers. These servers reformat the page (mess it up would be the more appropriate wording) and only return a dumb, code-free, representation of the page. It is the Web experience we had on cheap feature phones 5 years ago.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2010, at 12:04 PM, Quark108 wrote:

    While I think that Opera mini for iPhone is a step in the right direction, it is still WAY unrefined compared to Apple's Safari. It is definitely speedy but I'd rather wait a couple extra seconds and get a properly formatted page from Safari. Safari gets 100/100 on the Acid3 test while Opera mini only gets 74/100.

    I think the reason it has so many downloads is because it is so controversial. The statistic I'm most curious about is how that will translate into USE. I'm willing to bet that most downloaded it, said "eh..." and promptly deleted it or kept it but continue to use Safari. This probably explains the current 16253 ratings and 3/5 starts on the App Store.

    Choice is good but Apple wins this round.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2010, at 12:07 PM, Quark108 wrote:

    While I think that Opera mini for iPhone is a step in the right direction, it is still WAY unrefined compared to Apple's Safari. It is definitely speedy but I'd rather wait a couple extra seconds and get a properly formatted page from Safari. Safari gets 100/100 on the Acid3 test while Opera mini only gets 74/100.

    I think the reason it has so many downloads is because it is so controversial. The statistic I'm most curious about is how that will translate into USE. I'm willing to bet that most downloaded it, said "eh..." and promptly deleted it or kept it but continue to use Safari. This probably explains the current 16253 ratings and 3/5 starts on the App Store.

    Choice is good but Apple wins this round.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2010, at 3:27 PM, notnokia wrote:

    "Supporting contentious software like Adobe Flash and Sun's Java would instantly make Apple's products much more compatible with the Web as we know it, further enable its app developers..."

    Adding a third-party browser to the app store isn't the same thing as allowing another layer of software abstraction between apps and the iPhone OS.

    Adding additional layers to the software stack means slower performance, and allowing lazy programmers to have generic code that runs on many platforms, but is optimized for none of them. Apple wants apps that take advantage of the native features, not some generic unoptimized code, that could very likely break when Apple updates the OS.

    Flash is a resource pig. Look at what it does on Android. Great way to kill your mobile device's battery.

    If Apple wants to ensure the consistency of the platform experience, they have to exclude certain things. The most stable product Microsoft has made is the Xbox 360. It's not an "open" programming environment, but it's much more stable and secure than Windows. Open has some positives, but also has some negatives. Consumers will vote with their wallets for which serves them better.

  • Report this Comment On April 18, 2010, at 9:20 PM, beetlebug62 wrote:

    "application's enthusiastic acceptance by Apple users is tantamount to a slap in Jobs' face."

    How is it that Anders can write about something he has no experience of? Honestly, Anders, did you use Opera Mini on the iPhone, cause if you had, you wouldn't say such rubbish. People, including me, downloaded Opera Mini out of curiosity. It's free. No harm to try it. Turns out it's fast, but buggy. Totally insecure, as it compresses the web, before downloading to your iPhone, that's why it's fast, but that also means all of your personal info is going thru their servers. Not safe.

    Is anyone seriously asking for Java?

    And, is anyone missing Flash? Until Anders can show me that the lack of Flash has hurt iPhone sales, then he's just writing utter nonsense, as usual. How's your prediction for "Worst Stock of 2010?" coming along? Do you seriously think bashing Apple at every turn will help?

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