* has new features, design, easier usage
* leads mobile browser market ahead of Apple, Nokia
* market heating up with Google, Firefox entering
By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent
HELSINKI, Sept 16 (Reuters) - The world’s top mobile browser maker, Norway’s Opera Software OPERA.OL, released on Wednesday a test version of its mobile browser, Mini 5, promising new features, easier usage and new design.
“Opera Mini has been the main driver for growth in Opera in the last years. Version 4.2 is old and they need to develop it,” said John Strand, chief executive of Danish consultancy Strand Consult.
Companies usually release several successive test versions of their browsers so they can incorporate user feedback in a series of improvements before their final launch. Microsoft launched its latest desktop IE8 browser in March after a year of public beta testing. [nN18309713]
Opera is used for about 25 percent of global Internet traffic from mobiles, followed by Apple (AAPL.O) with 22 percent and Nokia NOK1V.HE 21 percent, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.
But the competition is heating up as Google (GOOG.O) has entered the market and Mozilla Foundation prepares to. Nokia’s shares are pretty much flat for 2009, while Opera’s are up about 22 percent for the first nine months.
Opera sells its browser to many cellphone makers and operators, and consumers can directly download it for free, while the Apple and Nokia browser’s ranking reflects only its users surfing the Internet.
The latest version aims to ease web surfing with speed dial, tabs and a password manager.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
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