Facebook could buy Opera for mobile OS push
As world shifts towards browser-based cloud platforms, Opera could give the social giant a weapon against Google
Published: 28 May, 2012
For the past year, Facebook has been reported to be preparing its own cloud operating system to boost its mobile strategy, and handset browser player Opera may form the heart of the plan. Rumors abound that the social network is set to acquire Opera Software, whose browsers dominate the independent mobile browser space, but are under pressure from vendors' own offerings, such as Apple Safari.
According to the Pocket-lint blog, "trusted sources" say Facebook is currently in talks with Opera, in a bid to fill in gaps in its mobile platform - just as Google is integrating its Google+ social network more closely into Android and its Chrome browser. The blog speculates that a Facebook browser "would allow you keep up to date with your social life from in-built plug-ins and features on the menu bar". The company certainly needs to find ways to enhance and monetize its mobile experience - it was open, in its recent IPO filings, about its failure so far to convert rising smartphone-based social networking into revenues. It will now be under even greater pressure to create new growth following the steep fall in its shares post-IPO.
Meanwhile, Opera is said to have implemented a hiring freeze and shown interest in an acquisition - despite its 200m users, it is under strong pressure from big-brand browsers. It has sought to expand its revenue model into areas like mobile advertising but Opera Mobile and Opera Mini remain the bedrock of its business.
These could gain new prominence now. The new wave of mobile platforms will increasingly rely on slimline operating systems, with most of the work being done in the HTML5 browser, and content streamed rather than downloaded. This opens the opportunity for web players to seize the reins of the mobile experience and weaken Android and iOS - and also puts browser makers on center stage. Firefox developer Mozilla has already unveiled its cloud OS system, Boot2Gecko, and it would be logical for Facebook to follow suit with a browser partner - preferably before Google's moves to converge its own browser/OS, Chrome, with Android take root.
The Chrome browser is replacing Android's native offering and that could further weaken the appeal of third party alternatives on Android phones, and mark a path forward to the cloud-focused world. However, there are still opportunities for alternative browsers if they are supported by a strong brand, as seen by Amazon's Silk.
Silk relies for differentiation on some techniques which are also key to Opera, notably the ability to speed response times, even on low end gadgets, by carrying out much of the processing in the cloud. However, its uptake does rely on it being pre-installed on Amazon's own devices, a factor which may push Facebook finally to launch its own-branded handsets or tablets, a popular rumor for a couple of years. So far it has gone no further than work with vendors like INQ to co-brand smartphones, putting its social network at the heart of the user interface.
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