‘We have bigger browser engineering than Google or Apple’

Having achieved 50 mn active user-base in India, Opera Software is confident of reaping more from the India market. In an interview with Voice&Data, Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software, talks about its journey, innovations and strategies to compete with the likes of Google and Apple.

Voice&Data: Congratulations on achieving over 50 mn user-base in India. How has the journey been so far?

Lars Boilesen: We started coming here very early (in the year 2006) and it’s a very big market. It was all about establishing brands, identities. We tried to make people access full internet on their mobile phones but that was impossible because India market primarily had feature phones. So, we developed a product called Opera Mini and it was very unique as it can compress data and run on any type of mobile handset. We do it with the help of our servers. We compress 90% of data without losing content; we take extraneous page elements like image pixels that users don’t miss. Our technology can also read what kind of phone you have and customize content accordingly. The magic was seen particularly in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 and now, we have 50mn users of Opera Mini in India.

Voice&Data: But the market share is still very low…

Lars Boilesen: It’s not low at all; we are the third largest mobile app in India, just behind Facebook and WhatsApp. People are using Opera in smartphones and most of them are android phones. Half of our users are now on android and add to that other platfoms like iOS and Tizen. So, we keep on innovating our products as per changing consumer landscape. Recently, Opera Mini also became the first web browser to power Samsung’s Gear S smartwatch, given its unique features and superfast speed. We were the first one to compress text, images and we compress data as well. If you look at Google they also do that now, they have the same for images and data, but now we have launched video compression, that’s very different, as no other browser does that. Google or Apple just use browser to log into the ecosystem but we have bigger browser engineering than Google or Apple. We just do browsers and that’s our mission in internet.

Voice&Data: How was Coast created and what kind of innovations may follow – after Coast?

Lars Boilesen: Coast is a very big example of how we innovate all the time, I think it’s very important for me that our engineers feel creative and they come up with big ideas and they get a chance to show their ideas even if they are bad ideas. I allow them to present these, to follow these ideas. We do a lot of research and the idea behind Coast was that we had an engineer who wanted to create next generation of browsers, so he basically said: ‘I am going to create a browser which does not look like the normal browsers today because normal browsers don’t take into account what has happened with mobile phones and apps and all that.’ He took away the toolbar, basic address, and the browser has more room for content and all we had in the product was the search, rest was just swiping, etc. He also fetched million of websites and had them displayed like apps on the browser. So, I asked, how we are going to do it? He said, ‘We need 10 engineers and 3-4 designers.’ And he picked his team. And after nine months they came out with Coast so this is how it was created. We keep on doing several interesting things. Next, we have Opera Max which compresses data across apps on smartphones, we are about to launch this in India soon on the Androids. Opera Max is a data-saving app that shrinks videos and photos on almost any app on your phone. It can help users extend their data plan by up to 50% for free.

Voice&Data: Are you planning localization of products?

Lars Boilesen: Right now, in India 20% of population is connected with the internet and the mission is to connect the unconnected. We already have 40% of mobile users of India using Opera Mini and we support 13 Indian languages but to get the next 100 mn online, we need to expand our geography, we need to support more cities here but the network is not so strong. So, here Opera Mini comes into the picture, as it can run on any phone and you also compress data running on a slow network, plus it makes internet affordable, which is a solution for India market. So, whatever may be the situation, we at Opera want to lower the barriers of internet and connect more people.

Voice&Data: What are the challenges in the India market?

Lars Boilesen: The challenge in India is that you need to have support from more localized content. You need an improvement in handsets. There are various barriers in India but with Opera, we can kill all these barriers. On a slow network, Opera mini becomes fast because we take traffic and do the rendering. So, we reduce the barrier of network constraint, we reduce the barrier of device constraint and we reduce the barrier of cost.

Voice&Data: How much revenue are you targeting from the India market?

Lars Boilesen: We make quite good money here in India because if you look at our browser, we make money in search in India. Then, we work with operators and make money there. India is among the top 10 markets in terms of revenues, but I think we invest more as we expand. We have a big development center in Pune. There are over 100 engineers and we are growing at a very fast pace. We have big marketing team here. We will add 100 mn users in the next 12 months. Nokia was big in India and its handset business was acquired by Microsoft. Last month, we signed a deal with Microsoft and they asked us to take over their browser business. With this, 25 mn users of Nokia will ultimately be upgraded to Opera browser. Particularly in the smartphone space, we will be growing. We already have tie-ups with 16 handset manufacturers such as Micromax, Karbonn, Celkon which pre-install Opera Mini on over 350 Android devices.

Voice&Data: What are your monetization strategies in India?

Lars Boilesen: We make money on search, on driving traffic to e-commerce partners like Flipkart, Myntra and everyday we make money on mobile advertising. We are the third biggest mobile advertising in the world.

Voice&Data: What are your key differentiators?

Lars Boilesen: One, Compression –We compress everything now, including video. Two, User interface – All our browsers have a very unique UI. Look at Coast, or even Opera for Android. All our products look very different. And third and most important, Security – we are big on user privacy, which is a big concern with most internet companies these days. Our servers do not store or cache users’ private information, so users feel safe while browsing.

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