It is clear from some the comments about the new Opera Widgets release that a lot of people don't understand why we are spending time on widgets, and I must admit that I didn't get it at first either. But if we move from narrowly focusing on the desktop, and instead look at the bigger picture, namely Opera's vision and where the market is heading, it might make a little more sense.
TL;DR: Opera Software is not just a desktop browser. It is a cross-platform browser. Opera's strategy needs to be seen in light of that. The market is moving towards convergence, global Internet access, and similar experiences on different devices. There is a real need for a faster, easier, less expensive way to deploy applications across devices. Widgets offer you a way to do that. …
First of all, let's establish Opera's position in the market:
Opera is a cross-platform browser, delivered on more platforms than probably any other browser out there. Opera is used on everything from low-end feature phones to the latest desktop monster computers. Opera Software's vision is to deliver the best Internet experience on any device (also see "The real vision behind Opera Software"). Yes, the desktop browser is definitely a key component to Opera's strategy, and it makes up about 1/3 of our total revenue at the moment. But as you can see, Opera is so much more than just a desktop browser. Opera is a cross-platform browser.
With that in mind, let's look at where the market is heading:
More and more types devices are running browsers, and people are expecting to be able to access the Web from any device. In addition to that, different devices are converging. For example, mobile phones have cameras, and they are becoming more and more popular for gaming. As devices converge, people expect to be able to do the same things on different devices, and Web browsing is one of the most important ones. Furthermore, people expect to run the same applications on different devices.
Still don't get it? Let's try a few specific scenarios:
- The user: Imagine that you have a favorite application on your computer, and you wish you could run it on your phone, TV and gaming device as well. If it is a native application, it will only run on the platforms it was specifically designed for. However, if the application is a widget, you will already be able to run it on any device. And since it uses open Web standards, there are numerous ways to adapt the applications to different screen sizes. With widgets, your application could be run on any device you own.
- The company: Imagine that you run company "BigCompanyX", and you sell a large range of electronic devices, from laptops to mobile phones to portable media players. All those devices run on different platforms with different capabilities, and you want to offer your customers the same applications across all of them. As devices converge, it is only natural that customers will expect to be able to use the same applications everywhere. With widgets, you will be able to create applications that will run on any of the devices you are selling, and your customers will be thrilled that BCX offers them the ability to run the same applications everywhere.
- The developer: Imagine that you are a talented developer, and you have this great application that you want as many people as possible to use. You could create the application on one platform, then port it to each and every different platform out there, but you are just one guy (or girl). Widgets would allow you to write your application once, and it would then be able to run on any device with a widget engine.
Is it starting to make sense now? We are not there quite yet, but we are working on it. And by "we", I don't mean just Opera. There is a big push for widgets out there from major players in the market.
The thing about widgets is that they are
- using open standards
- easier to make, leading to a faster time-to-market
- cheaper to make than traditional applications
Today, widgets are mostly small, single-purpose applications, but that is likely to change. Even though even Opera Software hasn't fully moved away from referring to widgets as that, there are definitely attempts by many significant players to change the way we view widgets.
The Web is the most important development platform today, but there will probably be a need for local applications for a long time. Widgets allow you to create local applications with Web technologies, giving you the best of both worlds.
We are not there quite yet, but give it time, and the capabilities of widgets will be greatly expanded.