Opera edges Safari as No. 1 mobile browser. Or does it?

It all depends on what's being counted

Opera regained a slight lead over Apple to become the most-used mobile browser in May, according to data from StatCounter. Or maybe not.

It all depends on what's being counted.

StatCounter tracks a sample of more than 4 billion page views per month, across 3 million Web sites, and identifies what brand of mobile browser requested them. In May, just less than 25% were requested by Opera, presumably Opera Mobile, a stand-alone downloadable browser for mobile devices, but not Opera Mini, which is a server-based browser designed for less powerful mobile phones.

Browsers on mobile devices increasingly are based on full-blown HTML rendering engines, either in the handset itself or on servers. Besides Opera Mobile, Firefox has a mobile browser in beta, Bitstream offers Thunderhawk, and Skyfire has a server-based offering. Microsoft is shortly releasing a much more capable mobile browser, to be called Internet Explorer Mobile 6.

According to StatCounter, the Apple iPhone Safari browser was second, with just over 22%. Remaining in third place, was the Nokia browser at nearly 18%.

But the mobile version of Safari also runs on the Apple iPod Touch, which is almost identical to iPhone but without a cellular radio: it has only the Wi-Fi connection. According to StatCounter, the "iTouch" made 15% of the May requests.

So if you look at the total of Safari mobile browser requests, that share jumps to 37%, a big lead over Opera. Still, that's a decline from the high point of the combined count: 42% for Safari in April. Since then, the page request percentage for Safari on both devices has been declining.

Opera's low point was in April with just over 21% of page requests.

Nokia has been hovering around 18% so far this year, with RIM's BlackBerry browser showing steady growth, rising about 2 points to just under 7% of page request in May.

The Android browser has been holding steady so far at around 2% of all requests this year.

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