Opera Confirms Shift To WebKit Android Browser, Starting With Smartphones

13 February 2013, 6:00 pm EST By Alexandra Burlacu Mobile & Apps

Opera Software, the Norwegian company behind the Opera browser, confirmed a dramatic change in strategy: it is adopting the WebKit browser engine for Chrome and Safari use.

The company announced the move on Wednesday, Feb. 13, and said it will display its first results with a WebKit-based version of its Android browser at the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) show. The shift will start with mobile, but Opera will move to WebKit for its desktop browser as well.

"The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need," CTO of Opera Software Håkon Wium Lie said in the press release. "It makes more sense to have our experts working with the open source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than developing our own rendering engine further. Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout."

"Consumers will initially notice better site compatibility, especially with mobile-facing sites — many of which have only been tested in WebKit browsers. The first product will be for Smartphones, which we'll demonstrate at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of the month. Opera Desktop and other products will transition later," reads a company blog post.

The company also announced that 300 million people use its browsers every month, further proving that Opera is increasingly relevant in the browser market. Opera, however, still has tough trends to face, especially on mobile.

While Opera has a strong presence on mobile, it is popular mainly on lower-end phones, as iOS and Android handsets pack their own WebKit-based browsers. When it comes to PCs, Google's Chrome has seen a stellar growth, leaving Opera and Safari eating its dust.

The WebKit program started out as the KHTML engine the KDE project used to supply Linux with a tweaked user interface and a slew of software utilities. Apple later became its main sponsor when the Cupertino giant based OS X's WebKit on the project. Google's adoption boosted WebKit even more.

Now, Opera's shift to WebKit no longer comes as a great surprise. The company already teased the first stage of the process last month with its WebKit-powered mobile browser called Ice.

The company confirmed on Wednesday that Ice is part of its experimentation with WebKit, and said that it has "several" R&D projects in the works. Opera will provide further details on Ice "in the future," as its immediate attention focuses on more market-ready products such as the Android app.  

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