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Opera auditions for iPhone browser spot

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Opera Software will be demonstrating its eponymous browser on Apple's iPhone next week, but don't expect to see it popping up in iTunes any time soon.

The announcement comes ahead of Mobile World Congress, the industry's annual shindig in Barcelona, where Opera Software will be demonstrating Opera Mini running on an iPhone to show it's faster than Safari. It will be hoping to force Apple into accepting the alternative browser of choice into iTunes.

Opera Mini is the Java-based version of Opera Mobile, offering greater handset compatibility with less integration than is possible using a native application. The iPhone doesn't support Java, so this will be a native application with the Mini feature set - though differences between the two are minimal these days.

Safari does a decent job rendering the internet on an iPhone - putting it side-by-side with Opera Mobile shows two very credible options. Opera is better for one-handed operation: making a better stab at guessing the ideal zoom level for reading, but Opera lacks the infinite zoom of the iPhone, so it's swings and roundabouts.

Opera's big sell is the "turbo" feature, which caches and compresses content at Opera's servers to reduce bandwidth and increase download speeds. We've liked Turbo before, but the iPhone's Safari browser is pretty impressive too. Putting the two side by side, we find Opera Turbo shaving off a second or two in loading times. This is not enough to make a huge difference to the browsing experience, unless one was working over a very slow connection.

Not that Apple is likely to allow Opera's browser onto its baby. Opera Software won't even be submitting the iPhone version for approval prior to showing it to journalists next week, clearly in the hope of embarrassing Apple into approving something Cupertino has made it very clear wouldn't be allowed.

Apple thinks an alternative browser would confuse users, just as an alternative e-mail or music download client would, and they're probably right. iPhone users don't want choice, they want simplicity, and Apple will continue to provide that for them no matter what the Norwegians show journalists next week. ®

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