In the early hours of this morning (or the civilized hours if you’re in Europe), Opera announced the launch of the latest version of its mobile browser, which comes with a built-in cryptocurrency wallet and the ability to integrate with Ethereum dapps (applications that run on a decentralized network).
The browser has been out in private beta for a few months, having been announced by Opera in July, while an experimental desktop version was released to the public in September. It’s a bold move from a Norwegian company that has been a small but accomplished player in the browser market for a long time, and is now slowly clawing back market share.
So why did Opera decide to make crypto an integral part of the new browser at this time?
“We saw a big gap between existing wallets and the web, where most current applications live and where new dapps are being developed,” said Charles Hamel, Opera’s product lead for crypto, in an email to BREAKER. “Having a wallet embedded inside the browser removes an enormous amount of friction and connects the value transfer and signing function to the app platform that is the web, and where we believe the user-facing use-cases for blockchain will emerge.”
One important path towards the mainstreaming of crypto is that it be integrated in general purpose applications, and brought to a larger audience by default rather than by choice.
Thanks to a PR rep for the company, we learned that the updated browser was available in the Google Play store from yesterday, with its new features already open for any user who knew where to click.
Not wanting to pass up on the chance, we took it for a road test on some testnets and web 3.0 sites. Here’s what we found.
With the browser downloaded from the Play store, the crypto wallet function is accessible in two clicks from the home screen. And here’s the first nice piece of UX: Instead of asking for a passcode, the wallet is unlocked with the Android system lock (in my case a swipe pattern).
It’s a sensible balance between security and usability for something that’s going to store a moderate amount of value, although I’d want beefier security if I were to entrust it with more.
Opera has always been a fast browser. In the past, it’s been my go-to for situations when I’m using my laptop with a cell phone data hotspot, as I know load times will be faster while keeping the overall data usage low. The mobile version is no different, and loads even media-heavy pages very quickly.
Like Brave, another favored browser in the blockchain world, Opera reduces overall data consumption by aggressively blocking ads. The same context menu that gives access to the crypto wallet also has a satisfying on/off switch for ad blocking which, when engaged, leaves most inline ads displaying as blank grey squares.
Given this, it’s annoying to see ads inserted into the inbuilt newsfeed. It’s probably bringing in some money to support Opera’s free product, but for me it’s a big turn off.
Being a lowly no-coiner, I didn’t have any ether on hand to test out the wallet. Luckily, the built-in wallet is compatible with the Ethereum testnets too, so I bagged a sweet three ethers from the Rinkeby faucet for free.
From there, the interface was similar basically to any other cryptocurrency app: Scan a QR code to read the address, confirm payment amount, and send. After hitting the send button, I was prompted for my unlock screen pattern again, which was simple but reassuring.
Nothing in this part of the process stood out, except of course that this was a mass-market web browser and not a crypto-specific wallet app. As the popularity of Square’s Cash app shows, one important path towards the mainstreaming of crypto is that it be integrated in general purpose applications, and brought to a larger audience by default rather than by choice.
From the crypto wallet screen it was also just a single click to access the dapps store, where Opera has helpfully linked a few decentralized apps to get started on.
Naturally, I visited everyone’s favorite Ethereum time sink, CryptoKitties. Of course, I forgot that you’re actually expected to pay money for these useless furry burdens, so with only testnet ether that was out of the question.
Thinking about how I could earn money rather than spending it, I headed over to Ethlance.com, a job market built on the Ethereum blockchain.
With one click, I was able to create an account by authorizing connection with the inbuilt Opera wallet—something which seems simple enough, but would require the Metamask browser extension to complete with Chrome or Firefox (and wouldn’t be possible at all if you insist on using Microsoft Edge).
I even found a cool opportunity to be a beginner Tutorial and Blog Writer, except it was posted one year ago, so I’m out of luck.
Overall, the browser was fast, easy to use, and secure enough that I’d trust it with the kind of money used in day-to-day web transactions.
It does lose points for having ads in the newsfeed, but besides that, it seems like a great way to onboard beginners into the world of the decentralized web.