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Opera sings WebKit's tune for new mobile browser

'Ice' project will freeze out Opera's own Presto

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WebKit, the open source web page rendering engine used in Chrome and Safari, is about to pick up another sliver of market share after Norwegian browser-maker Opera revealed it will drop its own rendering engine in a forthcoming mobile browser.

Opera has, for many years, used its own Presto rendering engine, but that apparently cuts no ice with development team working on a new iOS and Android mobile version of the browser due for release at the Mobile World Congress in February.

Dubbed Ice and seemingly an heir to Opera Mini, the new browser offers a different design direction to its competitors, presenting users a set of square icons to represent bookmarks in an arrangement closely resembling the iPhone's interface. PocketLint has a video demonstration of the new interface here in which you can see Ice's other gesture-driven navigation tools.

The new interface and move to WebKit need to be understood in the context of the fact Opera needs a new hit product. StatCounter reports Opera had 16.9 per cent of the market for mobile browsers in December 2012, down from 24.2 per cent a year earlier. Much of that market share will come from software it has shipped to makers of web-capable feature phones, a market that is in decline as smartphones become affordable in more of the world. Yet smartphone-makers have little need to ship a third-party browser, given the prominent mobile operating systems include such software.

Opera also has a business selling browsers to device-makers who use its products to web-enable televisions and set-top boxen. But given the surging import of mobile, Ice may become very important to Opera before much time has passed.

One piece of good news is that the company's loyal users - many of whom are not shy about reminding The Reg when we omit Opera from lists of browsers or browser developers – seem sanguine about the move to WebKit, if this thread in the Opera forums is any guide. They're a little less excited about Ice. ®

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