Opera have released a major update to their browser. Codenamed “Reborn”, the new browser has been in development for months and includes several features that were pioneered in Opera’s experimental Neon browser.
The most prominent feature is the addition of native support for WhatsApp, Messenger, and Telegram, via the sidebar. Quick-access icons have been added for these services, and they’re always available via speed dial. If you like to chat while browsing you can pin the side panel in place.
Chat applications typically work best on mobile devices, but Opera assert—correctly in my opinion—that desktops are a more powerful multi-tasking tool.
Still, there’s no escaping the fact that desktops are, for the most part, work machines. Whilst native chat in parallel with your workflow is certainly useful—I would kill for a Slack panel built into Creative Cloud apps—it’s questionable whether WhatsApp is a great business communication tool. In actuality, Opera’s native chat is likely to disrupt more work than it facilitates.
This new direction serves a very small niche—users that work on desktop, with Opera as their primary work tool, and communicate via WhatsApp; it seems unlikely that this feature will be emulated across the industry.
Of course, the native chat proved popular enough in the Neon experiment for it to not only be ported into the main browser, but to be the central feature in Opera’s current marketing.
Happily, there is a lot more in Opera’s latest release: the browsing experience feels more modern; there’s a dark mode if you’re as tired as everyone else of inoffensive grey; there’s more control over ad-blocking; the whole UI has been updated, with redrawn icons for different pixel densities and some charmingly understated animation. On top of all of that, there’s the usual round of security and performance enhancements.
Opera is a good browser, and it’s incredibly healthy for there to be challenges to Google’s monopoly. What Opera does, it does well. However, what it lacks is a clear identity. As the new messaging features show, Opera still isn’t sure who its main user is.
Opera’s latest update is available as a stable release now, and will be pushed out to all Opera users over the coming days.