Blog Post

Apple continues to dominate mobile browsing

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(s msft).

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(s goog).

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.

15 Responses to “Apple continues to dominate mobile browsing”

  1. Martin Hill

    Wikipedia’s OS usage share page agrees with Net Applications data.

    It reports operating system web browsing stats from StatOwl, Global Counter, W3Counter, WebMasterPro, Net Market Share, Clicky Web Analytics, AT Internet and WikiMedia:

    All of these analytic sources report that iOS has between 2.22% and 5.15% of global web traffic compared to Android which only has between 0.5% and 1.84%.

  2. Mike Templeton

    And guess where I’m reading this article? In the Safari browser on my iPad. Most surprising to me was how far behind BlackBerry is in usage. Maybe now we’ll have justification for leaving them out when developing?

  3. Richard Garrett

    I think the legal comparison to IE is interesting but perhaps because Apple manufactures the hardware to which the software is tightly bound they avoid the challenges that resulted in IE being removed from the desktops of Windows machines, none of which were made by Microsoft.

  4. The data is misleading. It’s browser usage, not number of users. There are 150 million Android devices, and 200 million iOS devices. So if the Android browser has about 15%, then the iOS browser would have about 20%. So it’s not at all like in IE’s case, because IE dominated “number of users” not browser usage.

    The reason the iOS browser gets so much more usage compared to the Android browser and the others, and compared to its actual number of users, is because the “usage” is heavily skewed by the iPad browser, where people use it for a lot longer than they would use a smartphone browser (be that Android or iPhone).

    Reach (number of users) matters a lot more to developers than browser usage. The usage just happens to be bigger on iPad because browsing is easier than on a phone there, just like it’s easier on a laptop.

    Net Apps did something misleading like this last month too, by adding the iOS browser share to the previous month’s desktop Safari market share, and then claimed something like “Safari grew the fastest last month, now bigger than Chrome”, or something like that. Completely misleading as the mobile browser is not the same thing with a desktop browser.

    • Pierre French

      Really? do you have datas or reports that support that assertion “reach is more important than usage”? what about ad backed apps or website where usage and ads exposure are clearly heavily correlated? the users base of ios is larger than android’s so anyway developers are winning with apple.

    • Martin Hill

      The browser stats are not skewed as much by the iPad as you think. Here are the stats by country from comScore’s May 2011 Device Essential report:

      Mobile phones:
      iPhone Android
      Canada 34.60% 8.20%
      Brazil 21.00% 11.70%
      Germany 35.10% 16.20%
      Spain 34.20% 22.10%
      France 34.30% 17.10%
      Singapore 51.90% 10.00%
      Australia 50.00% 10.50%
      U.S. 23.50% 35.60%
      U.K. 29.90% 15.10%
      Chile 45.20% 13.90%
      Argentina 12.50% 23.20%
      Japan 49.50% 30.60%
      India 2.80% 6.00%

      The overall OS stats are even more interesting:

      iOS captured 53.1% of all non-computer web traffic in the USA versus only 35.6% for Android.
      In Canada and Australia, iOS captured an enormous 83% versus 8.6% and 11% respectively for Android.
      In the UK iOS captured 60% versus 15.4% for Android.

      Brazil: iOS= 83% Android= 8.6%
      Singapore: iOS= 82.9% Android= 11.4%
      Chile: iOS= 64.1% Android= 14.5%
      Argentina: iOS= 31.6% Android= 23.6%
      Japan: iOS= 65.5% Android= 30.6%
      India: iOS= 7.4% Android= 6.5%

  5. I’d be interested to know how many people use an alternative iOS browser (than Safari) – there’s a bunch of them around, with iCab Mobile probably the best at the moment (though Dolphin is interesting). Their main advantage is – to my mind – tabbed browsing, and the ability to open links in background tabs. Why iOS Safari doesn’t do this is baffling – even iOS 5 only introduces tabs on the iPad (I think)…

    • Patrick Iversen

      Agreed. First thing I did when getting a iphone was to download a alternate browser because of the poor tabs interface. I went with sleipner and it has served me well. Opera mini and sleipner fortunately share the same trait with the tabs in the bottom which is better for navigation (in my opinion) since I use thumb navigation a lot. That and long pressing a link automatically opens it in a background tab, gotta love features :).

  6. Jason Thibeault

    It will be interesting to see how Apple incorporates some of unique and exciting features that other mobile browsers are featuring (i.e., tabs in AtomicWeb, channels in Dolphin Browser). And with FireFox coming out with their mobile browser soon, customers will finally have choice based on their desktop browsing experience (as cross-platform experience will be paramount when the Web is the Platform).

  7. Qasim Virjee

    This is definitely something we considered heavily when creating – its a web app for creatives to introduce themselves through their work (like a multimedia portfolio).

    Early on in the planning processes we considered the growing relevance of webkit-based browsers and touch-gestures; something that we ended up factoring into all the UI for media handling (the stats aren’t robust yet but it looks like 10% of our traffic is from iPads and iPhones alone!).