Opera wants to be your phone away from phone
A quick glance at Google Analytics tells me that if you’re reading Alphr right now (and few could dispute that, even in this age of alternative facts), you’re likely using Chrome or Safari. The two combined account for around two-thirds of our traffic. Firefox, Internet Explorer and Edge follow by some distance, and barely registering a pulse is Opera, with just over half a percent.
Whether or not that’s representative of the world as a whole (spoiler: it is), Opera knows it has its work cut out to stand out in a world where Google can ram Chrome down every searcher’s throats, and Apple and Microsoft can bundle their browsers straight into their respective operating systems. So, how does Opera compete? By introducing innovative ideas that its rivals will ultimately likely adopt themselves. The latest of these is built-in chat, essentially making the desktop your phone away from phone.
By default, in the latest version of Opera, a tab sits on the left-hand side of your browser at all times, with web versions of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram built in. You can disable any that you don’t use, but it means you’re never far away from your friends – without having to either keep tabs constantly open or keep one eye on your phone.
Under a blog post entitled “Opera is Reborn”, Krystian Kolondra, executive vice president of desktop at Opera, explained that the thinking behind the move was to ensure the desktop could catch up with the smartphone as a multitasking tool. “Social messengers completely changed our lives, by allowing us to work, discover new things and communicate at the same time,” he explains. “This shift has come with smartphones, but desktops and laptops, while theoretically more powerful multitasking tools have been left behind.”
“Browsing and chatting simultaneously is cumbersome and inefficient now, as you need to switch between tabs when responding to a message,” he continues.
I’ve been using it this morning in a bid to increase the Opera population browsing Alphr and have found myself quietly impressed, although it’s not perfect. One of the nice features is being able to drag and drop a photo from the web straight into a conversation, but for that to work you need to have the messaging app of choice pinned, taking up half the screen. Likewise, if you have multiple windows, the sidebar has to be open in all or none, which isn’t ideal. Notifications could probably be a little clearer (if you have sound switched off, you’ll just get a small dot on the icon), and WhatsApp can be a little flakey about loading quickly sometimes, but overall it’s a great idea that works well. I can see this catching on. Throw in Slack and Google Hangouts, and pretty much every way I chat is on tap at all times, and my phone’s tiny imprecise keyboard is kept out of the whole equation.
Opera has another couple of tricks up its sleeve, which I have mixed feelings about. A built-in free VPN is certainly welcome, although those serious about their privacy or security would still probably feel safer paying for one. Ad-blocking is also on hand, but that’s something I have serious issues with that I won’t get too sidetracked on here (in short: if everyone blocks ads, then the only people left to publish content will be those that can afford to make a loss – and I find that chilling).
Still: that’s three things right there that Opera does to set it apart. There’s a good chance that some or all of these will be adopted by the browser’s rivals in the next few years, but for now it’s hard not to be impressed with Opera for thinking outside the box. And it will be my browser of choice until other browsers match its innovative thinking.