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Opera Mini's first iPhone fix doesn't tackle big complaints

Opera's few minor tweaks for its big-deal iPhone app could leave users cold, especially in light of Skyfire's new mobile browser advances.

Now that the dust has settled on Opera Mini for iPhone's dramatic entry into the App Store and subsequent million-download day, the browser company has gotten to work addressing some user complaints in Thursday's Opera Mini for iPhone update.

The fixes, however, are subtle. The most significant one rights a network issue that caused Opera Mini to freeze at start-up. This release also set the app's fallback language to English rather than Arabic, as it previously was (in other words, an error with a language pack will now revert back to English.) Opera Mini is now also available in Hungarian, and the company says it has fixed backend bugs and stability soft spots.

However, Opera's mini update may disappoint some users who are on the lookout for Opera Mini to adopt multitouch pinch-to-zoom capabilities, finer-detail zoom levels, improved page rendering, and support for iPhone-optimized Web pages.

The fact that Opera Mini is a proxy browser that more or less beams an image of a Web page to your screen courtesy of Opera's servers, can account for some of the user grievances. For instance, Opera Mini isn't a native iPhone app, and therefore doesn't have access to the pinch-to-zoom technology of iPhone's Safari browser.

Opera Mini 5 for iPhone
Opera Mini 5 running on the iPhone. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In the meantime, a brand-new entrant into the mobile browser space should have Opera reconsidering its position.

Skyfire, a previous Opera Mobile competitor on Windows Mobile and Symbian phones, has also on Thursday introduced Skyfire beta browser for Android. Skyfire's browser is based on the same open-source WebKit engine used to build Safari--as such, it already employs pinch-and-zoom. Skyfire definitely has its sights set on a version for iPhone, which would bring it into direct opposition with its Opera Mini rival.

While Opera has gone on record boasting that it's found a way around Apple's browser restrictions using its own software code, the company's stubbornness could lose users who care more about pinching the screen than they do about how quickly pages load.

It's also worth noting competitor Skyfire's buzzed-about ability to transcode and stream Flash video through the company's servers. That, combined with multitouch support, could give Skyfire, and not Opera Mini, the next iPhone edge. Flash video has been the hot topic in mobile of late, with Google affirming that its Android OS update 2.2 will carry it, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs' going on record to bestow his kiss of death for Adobe Flash on iPhone.

Opera may yet have a little breathing room to rethink its strategy before Skyfire and others make their iPhone move. Skyfire's CEO Jeff Glueck told CNET in an interview that while an iPhone version of their native/proxy browser hybrid is certainly in the works, the company wants to make sure it can handle server hits comparable to a million new users in one day, assuming their success were to follow Opera's in the first full day of its iPhone release.

Not to leave out Firefox, Mozilla also made its first foray into Android this week, which could make this game of browser leap-frog ever more interesting in the months to come.