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Before the first iPhone was released, Apple wanted Opera to build the browser for the iPhone, says a source. Negotiations dragged on for six months, the sticking point being exclusivity — Apple wanted it, but Opera was unwilling to commit, seeing a larger market for licensing its proprietary software to multiple handset manufacturers. Eventually, Apple walked away armed with ideas from the negotiations and built a version of its own Safari browser for the popular mobile device. Meanwhile, Opera ended up as the browser of choice for the blockbuster Nintendo Wii, and Opera Mini did much to saturate the mobile handset market. But is the iPhone claim simply a proud boast made by an indiscreet senior manager at a company party? Maybe.The real question is, why would Apple have approached Opera in the first place? Simple. It's not like the Cupertino company has thousands of employees to throw at a browser project — with only a few thousand in corporate and the rest in retail, Apple is actually happy to outsource engineering whenever possible. Especially when the company can ensure an exclusivity deal and enforce some creative control over the interface. But that demand of exclusivity led Opera to bow out, which forced Apple to end up developing its own mobile browser after all. If the source's assertion is true, passing on Apple could prove a miscalculation on Opera's part. Apple is said to have offered it a large piece of then-theoretical iPhone sales. Opera chose a smaller piece of a larger pie in licensing its Opera Mini to multiple carriers and manufacturers, and so far, it's done fine with that strategy. But even with the bugs and lawsuits, the iPhone is set to beat Steve Jobs's public estimates that Apple would sell 10 million units this year. Meanwhile, mobile search partner Google is intent on porting the company's new Chrome browser to the Android mobile software platform and both Mozilla and Microsoft recently upgraded their competing Firefox and Explorer browsers. Four years in, and Opera has big money to blow on a bar tab at the Supper Club in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood. That will buy a lot of champagne and at least a temporary warp in Apple's reality distortion field. But enough to make up for the iPhone money Opera passed up? That remains to be seen.