Opera pushes mobile apps with Handster buy

Minority browser maker Opera has indicated its desire to boost its exposure in the world of the app market, announcing the acquisition of Handster Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

While Apple demonstrated the possibilities of rebranding a download site as an app store - sorry, App Store - when it fired off its first iOS devices, plenty of other companies have followed in its footsteps. Google, in particular, has not only added the Android Market to its mobile platform, but a place to buy and download web apps for its Chrome Browser too.

That's something in which Opera has taken a keen interest: the company launched its own version, the Opera Mobile Store, back in March, but has thus far not done the same for its desktop browser offerings.

Handster, an Illinois based company with operations in the Ukraine, claims to have the world's largest independent Android content library, which it bundles to operators and OEMs as a white-label app store platform with integrated content management, development tools, and financial settlement services.

"Opera is evolving from being a browser company into a fully integrated mobile services company and this acquisition is an important step in that direction," claimed Opera's chief executive Lars Boilesen regarding the deal. "We are delighted to welcome the Handster team into the Opera family. Handster will enable us to strengthen our mobile store offerings to consumers, mobile operators and handset manufacturers."

"Handster could not have found a better suitor," founder Victor Shaburov gushed. "The combination of our platform, along with Opera's position in the market, will make a big impact on the mobile ecosystem, benefiting developers, publishers, operators and handset manufacturers around the world."

The acquisition of Handster demonstrates two things: firstly, that Opera believes Android is going to continue to grow, and that there is room for additional services on top of the official Android Market; secondly, that the company is slowly moving away from the desktop browser it is best known for into the world of smartphones.

That said, Opera is hedging its bets: Handster's platform includes support for Java-based featurephones, Nokia's Symbian platform, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and both netbook and tablet applications - suggesting that a move to the desktop isn't out of the question for Opera's marketplace after all.