Opera's Android browser can now control BB-8

While still in the land of uncertainty regarding the acquisition by a Chinese company, it is still business as usual for Norwegian browser maker Opera. In fact, it just announced the availability of version 36 of its browser for Android. Along with the usual gamut of under the hood improvements as well as swell new visual features, Opera 36 takes the mobile browser beyond, well, the browser, adding functionality that would let it connect to and communicate with Bluetooth devices. Like, for example, the popular BB-8 toy from Sphero.

Browsers today are a lot more capable than their counterparts a few years ago. More than just displaying web pages, these apps can run sophisticated software that could even rival some native mobile or desktop apps. They can also interface with a lot more than just remote servers. Opera's experimental Web Bluetooth functionality, for example, allows it to interface with Bluetooth LE devices. One example use case the Opera itself provides is controlling the BB-8 Sphero robot. Normally, you'd control it via a dedicated mobile app. It doesn't have the full range of features, naturally, but it's a good demo of how powerful the technology could be. And all you need is a browser. Opera's browser, that is.

Opera 36 also introduces a new panel-like tab switcher. The company claims it is easier to find tabs and close them with this new design. It also supposedly takes up less memory as well, so you can have a more insane number of tabs open.

Some websites almost behave like mobile apps when viewed from a mobile browser. If that's the case, sometimes it's better to launch them like mobile apps as well, that is, from the homescreen. While you can, of course, manually do that yourself, Opera will now suggest to you from time to time if you want to pin a specific website to your Android home screen. It won't nag you, however, or popup up randomly. It will only appear for websites you really, really frequent.

Under the hood, Opera 36 syncs with Chromium version 49. Once upon a time, Opera maintained its own web rendering engine similar to Google, Mozilla, and Apple. Eventually, it decided to focus its efforts on web apps and features instead and adopted Chromium, the same open source engine on which Google's Chrome browser is based.

Opera was one of the pioneers of mobile web browsers, predating even the likes of Android and iOS. Of late, however, its core business has been redirected to things like web compression and even developing a smart TV platform. Business might not be doing so well, so when a $1.2 billion buyout offer from Chinese giants Kunlun and Qihoo arrived, its board was reportedly positive about it. So far, however, no movement towards that direction has been reported with finality.