* Has new features, design, easier usage
* Leads mobile browser market ahead of Apple, Nokia
* Market heating up with Google, Firefox entering
(Adds analyst, background, shares)
By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent
HELSINKI, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Norway’s Opera Software OPERA.OL released on Wednesday a test version of its new mobile browser, hoping new features, easier usage and new design will protect its No 1 spot in the global mobile browser market. The competition has heated up since Apple’s (AAPL.O) iPhone showed the possiblities of mobile Internet access. Google (GOOG.O) has entered the market and the Mozilla Foundation is preparing to enter this year.
“The browser is becoming a primary area of focus as manufacturers seek to differentiate devices in a highly competitive market,” said Geoff Blaber, analyst with British consultancy CCS Insight.
“The importance of the browser is increasing not only because of the need for a good browsing experience, but also as future mobile content and applications will be increasingly built on top of the browser.”
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 with 21 percent, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.[nL2246841]
Nokia’s share is pretty much flat for 2009, while Opera’s is up about 22 percent for the first nine months.
Shares in Opera were 1.4 percent higher at 22.10 crowns by 1012 GMT, outperforming a 0.5 percent rise in the DJ Stoxx European technology index .SX8P.
Opera’s new Mini 5 version aims to ease web surfing with speed dial, tabs and a password manager.
“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, CEO 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 the final launch.
Microsoft launched its latest desktop IE8 browser in March after a year of public beta testing. [nN18309713]
Opera sells its browser to many cellphone makers and operators, and consumers can directly download it for free, while the Apple and Nokia browser rankings reflect only their users surfing the Internet.
(Editing by Lin Noueihed)
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