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After stagnating for months, usage of Google’s(s goog) Chrome browser for iOS(s aapl) in North America is on the rise. According to data from its ad network, Chitika says Chrome for iOS has climbed to 3 percent of iOS web traffic on the network as of the end of September. As a reference, Chrome accounted for 1.5 percent of such traffic on iOS when it debuted in June of 2012.
While three percent is a relatively small number, Google should be happy with the growth, mainly because Chrome — nor any other third-party browser, for that matter — can’t be set as the default in iOS. That’s Safari’s role: Clicking links in any app from Apple or other iOS developer will open up Apple’s own browser.
What’s driving the growth? For some reason the debut of iOS 7 has helped, says Chitika:
“While Chrome usage share on iOS devices rose only about 0.3 percentage points following September 22, keep in mind that iOS has an incredibly large existing user base meaning that usage changes need to be exceptionally great to cause a significant impact. In this realm, Google still has work to do, but the recent growth is a likely indicator that Chrome is regaining some traction in the iOS browsing space.”
I think there’s an additional explanation to account for the overall trend: Google has steadily been “linking” its mobile apps for iOS together. Case in point: In May, Google updated Gmail for iOS so that links in mail could be automatically opened inside Chrome, not Safari. Google quickly followed up with a new programming method for third-party iOS developers to do the same, saying “With Chrome’s OpenInChromeController class with x-callback, users can open a web page in Chrome and then return to your app with just one tap.”
This type of end-around is done at the app level, whereas setting the default browser is done at the system level, which Apple controls. It’s a clever move by Google to insert this into its apps because it can boost engagement in Google services, something Google is trying do on the desktop with its Chrome browser.
I doubt Apple is worried about a few percent of its users choosing Chrome over Safari. And I don’t think Chrome will account for a large chunk of browser usage on iOS any time soon. But even if that does happen, I’m not sure what Apple can do about it. The obvious answer is to not approve Google’s apps. However, given the number of people using Gmail, Google Drive and other Google apps, I think many iOS users would be upset Apple if it took that route.
Keep in mind that Chitika’s data only applies to its own network. Yes, it’s a big one — the typical sample size of a Chitika study is around 300 million impressions — but you should consider this to be more of a trend indicator than anything else. And if you’re Google, you like the current trend.