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"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
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.