Browser-maker Opera announced that it's buying much smaller rival Skyfire for approximately $155 million in cash and stock. Skyfire's chief claim to fame is video optimization. Opera also said this week that it was approaching 300 million monthly users across all its platforms (computers, mobile phones, TVs and other connected devices).
The 300 million monthly uniques figure is very impressive; however it masks a downward trend in Opera's usage in mobile. As Android and iPhones push out feature phones (except in developing markets) and BlackBerry devices, Opera is seeing its global browsing share decline.
In the course of a single year Opera has gone from being the leading mobile browser around the world, with a 23% share, to number three and a 15% share. This rapid deterioration probably explains the company's recent decision to switch the core of its browser to WebKit as well as the Skyfire acquisition.
WebKit is behind both Safari and Chrome, though not IE. Opera's adoption of WebKit will enable its browser to remain relevant in a smartphone world dominated by iOS and Android.
Opera's business, since its 2010 acquisition of AdMarvel, also includes mobile advertising. And in its recent Q4 State of the Mobile Web report, intended to showcase the company's global scale and advertising chops, we discover that 64% of global ad impressions are still coming mostly from the US, though international is growing.
In the US Opera holds a less than 1% mobile browser market share according to StatCounter. In Europe it's roughly 7%. In Asia it's 24% but Opera was just passed by the Android browser. Africa is the only region where Opera continues to lead.
However Android's global growth is a direct threat to the company given that most users will rely on the device's own browser or Chrome. By the same token most users on the iPhone rely on Safari. Currently Opera has little to offer that will clearly differentiate it from either the Android or iPhone browsers. That's partly what the Skyfire bet is about -- mobile video optimization.
However by itself that's not going to be enough to keep Opera from continuing to lose usage.