Nate Lanxon, over at C|Net, recently wrote an article titled Opera should give up on desktop browsers where he says "Opera should give up on the desktop browser market and focus its time on developing for mobile phones, media players and similar devices" and "It should take its clearly talented teams of developers and shift its focus to the mobile world where it can really thrive. It should focus on the types of devices it's already winning with -- the Nintendo Wii for one, and even the Archos handhelds -- and claim a dominant position."
I completely disagree. What Nate and others don't get is that Opera needs a desktop presence. Opera's vision of the Web, one I share, is that it's the same Web everywhere. This is really important. But today's mobile Web usage just isn't enough, even if you dominate the mobile market, to have a really thoroughly tested technology stack.
People just don't use the Web on other devices like they do the desktop. Even the most popular mobile Web experience, the iPhone, barely breaks half of one percent of Web usage. With that kind of usage, and the feedback that comes from that usage, a Web browser would not be able to keep up with the ever-changing Web.
Any successful mobile Web browser must embrace the full Web, the same Web that the desktop browsers experience. The only way to do that today is to bring the desktop technologies, proved out by lots of usage, to the mobile space. A mobile-only play just won't cut it.
In addition to proving the technology, the ~30 million or so Opera users on the desktop provide tens of millions of dollars in growing and predictable search revenue from Google (and Ask, Yandex, Amazon, Baidu, and Allegro.) That was almost 25% of Opera's $70M in 2008 revenue.
Suggesting that Opera abandon the desktop when that is the primary proving ground for its core technology and when it's generating ~$16 million dollars a year in revenue sounds kind of silly to me.
This article and several recent other very confused and heavily flawed articles discussing the browser market place raise an interesting point, I think. The Web browser space, desktop and devices, isn't really very well understood by people who aren't directly involved in it. This leads people in the press and on blogs to write all kinds of strange analysis and to draw all manner of wrong conclusions and predictions.
Everyone uses browsers and most tech-savvy folks can follow the basics of browser releases and market share. But the Web browser space is a lot more complicated than that and people should be careful to not over-estimate their understanding of how the market actually operates.
OH, And a little research and asking a few people who do work in the industry the right kinds of questions really does go a long way.