Opera unveils its new mobile browser, based on WebKit

This is actually pretty big news – both exciting and tragic at the same time. Opera has revealed Opera Ice, its next mobile browser, to PocketLint. This new browser represent a big shift in both user interface as well as rendering engine, since it has a new, unique interface, as well as a new rendering engine… New to Opera, that is, as it’s a WebKit-browser.

This marks the first time that Opera uses the WebKit rendering engine – in fact, as far as I know, it’s the first time the company uses a rendering engine that isn’t Presto, or an offshoot or precursor thereof. Opera states that in order to stay relevant, it has to have a full-fledged, modern browser on both iOS and Android. While Android doesn’t enforce a rendering engine, iOS does (with additional limitations, since only Apple itself is allowed to use Nitro, iOS’ fast JavaScript engine), and because of this, Opera is forced to use WebKit for the iOS version, at which point they might as well use it on Android as well.

This allows the Opera engineers to focus on the user interface, and that’s where the innovation lies. Opera’s goal is to put the website content front and centre, eliminating virtually all of the user interface elements in favour of gestures to perform basic UI functions.

“We need to go into a new phase, we need to lift our games on certain areas to ensure we continue to grow,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO of Opera, “We need to focus on getting strong products out on iOS and Android. These are the two leading platforms we will focus on, They are the ones phones are being sold for.”

Opera Mini will continue to exist and be developed, but Boilesen claims it’s simply not up to par with browsers like Chrome and Safari.

The new browser will be released for iOS and Android come February, and while Windows Phone is not off the tables, it’s not exactly a priority until sales of the platform pick up. PocketLint mentions that “a desktop Opera browser” will be launched in March as well, but the article is unclear whether or not that will be WebKit based as well. This is a pretty heavy blow for competition between rendering engines, but it’s hard to blame Opera – the company needs to stay relevant, and WebKit is pretty damn good. However, as a consumer with Internet Explorer 6 firmly implanted in his memory, I know what happens when we focus too much on a single rendering engine, leaving everything else behind.

A question for those of you using Opera: if you take Presto out of Opera, is it still Opera?

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