Browser maker Opera announced two major updates today: its upcoming desktop browser will finally include extensions, the add-ons that let users customize their browser with additional features, and a version of Opera will be designed just for Android handsets.

Opera Mobile for Android

The upcoming Opera Mobile for Android will offer two notable features: hardware acceleration and pinch-to-zoom. The former is a technology which speeds up software performance, by offloading some of the processing from the CPU to other hardware components, usually the GPU. The latest version of Internet Explorer, IE9, for example, uses hardware acceleration to speed up text and video rendering and the performance of web applications.

In Opera, the technology is enabling the second of its two main Android browser features, pinch-to-zoom. In Opera's two other mobile browsers, Opera Mobile and Opera Mini, there are only two levels of zoom - on for the full page width and one zoomed in for reading text.

With pinch-to-zoom, however, Opera Mobile for Android users will be able to choose their own zoom level just as in the Opera desktop browser. Using the now-standard "pinching" gesture on the phone's touchscreen, zooming will be a more fluid experience, says Opera on its company blog today.

This hardware-accelerated zooming will also later arrive to other Opera browsers, including the iPhone version of Opera and its newest desktop browser, Opera 11.

Opera Mobile for Android will be available from both m.opera.com and Android Market within a month.

Opera 11

No exact launch date was available for Opera 11 - the company just says that the alpha version will be available "soon" from here: opera.com/browser/next.

The biggest news regarding this update is the support for extensions, a long-requested feature among Opera's core legion of fans. Like competitors Chrome, Firefox and Safari, the new extensions will be built using standard Web technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. This will make it easy for developers to port their extensions from other browsers to Opera.

In the first release, the extensions API (application programming interface) will support injectable JavaScript, callouts, certain UI items and a basic Tabs and Windows API.

At a press conference in Oslo, Norway, Opera demonstrated a couple of the first extensions - one for searching Wikipedia and another for use with user-generated news site Reddit.