In the mobile browser world, one Apple’s mobile Safari is unmatched in terms of reach. New data from Net Applications shows the iOS version of Safari as easily beating out even the closest competition by a wide margin in terms of mobile browser usage share. In fact, it looks a lot like the mobile equivalent of the desktop products of one of Apple’s longtime competitors: Internet Explorer.
As with IE in desktop computing, mobile Safari is used for more than 50 percent of the browsing done on mobile devices (53 percent in August 2011, to be exact), and it has remained at or near that mark for many months now. Unlike IE, Safari on iOS isn’t bleeding market share; in fact, its usage is trending upward. In October 2010, Safari had 44.3 percent of the overall picture, which means it has grown by just under nine percentage points in less than a year, according to the stats from Net Applications. IE is steadily falling, losing ground especially to Chrome.
There’s more to the similarity between the two than just market dominance, however. Both IE and mobile Safari are default options on the hardware they ship with, but again, there’s a key difference: Apple really won’t let any other browsers play on its platform, even if a user does want to initiate a change. You can’t make any other browser the default options for opening links from other apps, and even the third-party browsers you can install from the App Store (like Dolphin) are actually just Safari at heart with feature and function changes. Microsoft got in trouble just for bundling IE with Windows 7 in Europe, let alone making it the only default option, so you have to wonder if similar action against Apple might follow down the road.
On the other hand, making Safari the only choice ensures Apple can guarantee a uniform browsing experience across all iOS devices it sells, and helps prevent security risks, something rival Android has had trouble with. You might think that because Android’s market share is still growing, it would be stealing some of mobile Safari’s thunder. It’s actually having more of an effect on Opera Mini, the second-place mobile browser, which has continually shed usage to the stock Android Browser. Opera Mini has traditionally targeted non-smartphone mobile devices, which might account for its early success and slow decline as people make the jump from feature phones to more advanced devices.
Apple is staying ahead in mobile browsing for one very clear reason: the iPad. Android has yet to have a hit tablet on its hands, and even cumulative sales of Android-powered slates don’t match Apple’s shipment volume, providing a huge edge to mobile Safari. My prediction? We’ll see Android pass Opera Mini and make a strong play for second, but Apple will continue to lead the pack for another year at least, and likely even beyond.