Opera Mini for the iPhone  (Source: Opera Software ASA)
A big mobile browser launch and mounting frustrations add up to some intriguing iPhone storylines

Norway-based Opera Software ASA's mobile browsers -- Opera Mini 4 (currently in beta for Mini 5) and Opera Mobile 10 -- are the world's most used cell phone browsers.  One of the key challenges to Opera's mobile market share over the past couple years has been Safari, the browser used on the iPhone.

Traditionally Apple did not allow third-party browsers on the iPhone.  It recently relaxed these restrictions allowing third-party browsers -- but only those based on webkit.  Now Opera has offered a sneak peak of Opera Mini on the iPhone, leaving many unanswered questions.

Opera Mini is based on the Presto layout engine, not Webkit, and is underpinned by Java ME API calls.  Opera has already been welcomed on less unrestrictive platforms, such as Google's Android OS (which uses an emulation layer to translate the Java API calls to appropriate Android API calls).  However, it seems pretty amazing if Apple actually allows Opera Mini -- a huge threat to its big mobile browsing market share -- on the iPhone.

Jon von Tetzchner, Co-founder, Opera Software, speaking to the press at the 2010 Mobile World Conference (MWC) in Barcelona, certainly spoke about the preview as if it were for a sure-to-be-released product, though.  He stated, "We are thrilled to offer journalists and partners an exclusive preview of Opera Mini for iPhone during the year’s biggest mobile event. This is a unique opportunity to introduce the fast, feature-rich Opera Mini experience for the iPhone, and to showcase our latest beta releases of Opera Mobile and Opera Mini on other platforms and devices. Opera’s mission is to bring the Web to the world, and by making Opera Mini available on yet another platform, we are one step closer."

For iPhone users looking to cut potential data costs and speed up page load times, Opera's compression technology and easily switchable image quality settings should help the browser outpace Safari if it indeed makes it onto the iPhone.  Other key features include tabs, Speed Dial, and a password manager.

We're certainly hoping that Apple approves Opera Mini as an iPhone App.  After all, we feel it's perhaps the best mobile browser on the market right now.

It's important to emphasize how shocking that approval would be, though.  Mozilla CEO John Lilly has already totally ruled out the prospect of a Firefox derivative (Fennec) on the iPhone.  He stated in a 2008 interview with Wired, "Apple makes it too hard.  It says it's because of technical issues - it doesn't want outsiders to disrupt the user experience."

In other iPhone news, pressure is mounting for Apple to repeal its iPhone and iPad ban on Adobe Flash.  Apple has refused to support Flash on the iPhone since its inception (and now refuses to do so with the iPad as well) and remains firm in its stance, despite numerous competitors unveiling sleek mobile Flash browsing.  While Flash doesn't seem to be helping Android phones like the Nexus One sell particularly well, the threat of customers jumping to competitors is there for Apple.

According to Ryan Kim of The San Francisco Chronicle, sources at Adobe said that there were 7 million attempts to download Flash from in December, up from 3 million in June.  These kind of massive numbers indicate that people are coming to expect mobile phones to support Flash.

Adobe currently offers a beta version of Flash 10.1 which is compatible with Android and webOS (Palm) smart phones, among others.  A final version is expected later this year.  Market research firm Strategy Analytics predicts that by 2012 53 percent of mobile phones will supported Flash -- an estimated 250 million mobile Flash installations.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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