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Opera Goes for Android

Software company Opera Software ASA has today unveiled the first major third-party browser for the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-backed Android mobile phone operating system.

The Olso, Norway-based firm has a "technical preview release" of its Opera Mini browser available at labs.opera.com for Android developers to give feedback on. This preview will precede a beta release of the browser later this year. (See Opera Does Android.)

Google already has a browser for Android, of course, developed using the WebKit engine. Some, however, have suggested that the page rendering is currently somewhat slow. Whatever the case may be, as the first major browser with a presence within the platform, the arrival of Opera mini on Android is seen as "very significant" by analysts, such as Carmi Levy at AR Communications Inc.

"Mobile devices are tomorrow's gateway to the Internet and all the revenue-generating services that it generates," Levy tells Unstrung.

"As Microsoft and IBM have proven in earlier PC and mainframe-based eras, the companies that control that access possess major competitive advantage over those that don't. Opera Mini on Android positions this browser as a key gatekeeper in the battle to establish positions for the upcoming battle for mobile market supremacy."

This is especially true because many of the other major browser developers in the cellphone space tend to be tied to a particular cellphone vendor or operating system. Witness: Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iPhone, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Mobile Internet, and the Symbian Ltd. OS. Opera is one of the few browsers that can claim to work across several mobile operating systems.

"As mobile devices take their place as the next big thing, mobile browsers could very well be the next significant battleground for vendors interested in establishing and preserving their market position," suggests Levy.

"It is significant, in that Android devices will have to focus on offering a superior experience on the Web, and Opera is a good choice for browsers that are built on industry standards and support a variety of connections and apps," agrees Jack Gold at J.Gold Associates.

Certainly, the U.S. market is now following the same path that Japan and Western Europe forged with smartphone users accessing the Web on their devices. The resurgence of the concept of the mobile Internet was one of the talking points at the recent CTIA show, although studies suggest that it is the iPhone that's driving that uptake. (See iPhone 3rd in Smartphones.) Opera, however, could certainly face more competition on the Android platform by the time phones using the OS hit the market. Early devices are expected to hit in the fourth quarter of this year, although some developers say it could be another 12 months before the platform goes mass-market. (See Now Wait for Android.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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