Browser Trends December 2016: Mobile Overtakes Desktop

Craig Buckler

In November, we looked at the underdog browsers adopted by one in thirty web users. The StatCounter browser statistics for December 2016 records a more exciting and momentous event in the web’s history …

Mobile overtakes desktop, November 2016

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, October to November 2016

The following table shows browser usage movements during the past month.

Browser October November change relative
Chrome 59.39% 59.22% -0.17% -0.30%
Firefox 13.28% 13.49% +0.21% +1.60%
IE11 6.95% 6.98% +0.03% +0.40%
oldIE 1.94% 1.81% -0.13% -6.70%
Edge 2.82% 2.93% +0.11% +3.90%
Safari 4.79% 4.69% -0.10% -2.10%
iPad Safari 5.42% 5.68% +0.26% +4.80%
Opera 1.91% 1.82% -0.09% -4.70%
Others 3.50% 3.38% -0.12% -3.40%

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, November 2015 to November 2016

The following table shows browser usage movements during the past twelve months:

Browser November 2015 November 2016 change relative
Chrome 54.27% 59.22% +4.95% +9.10%
Firefox 14.70% 13.49% -1.21% -8.20%
IE11 10.40% 6.98% -3.42% -32.90%
oldIE 5.05% 1.81% -3.24% -64.20%
Edge 1.21% 2.93% +1.72% +142.10%
Safari 9.34% 10.37% +1.03% +11.00%
Opera 1.77% 1.82% +0.05% +2.80%
Others 3.26% 3.38% +0.12% +3.70%

(The tables show market share estimates for desktop browsers. The ‘change’ column is the absolute increase or decrease in market share. The ‘relative’ column indicates the proportional change, i.e. 6.7% of oldIE users migrated elsewhere last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated and StatCounter vs NetMarketShare.)

Chrome experienced an uncharacteristic fall. I’m secretly pleased; I predicted Google’s browser wouldn’t reach 60% before the end of 2016! That said, -0.17% is hardly a major setback, and my predictions are notoriously awful. No doubt everyone will switch to Chrome during the next month just to prove me wrong!

A fall for Chrome generally means good news for other applications. Firefox, Edge and even IE11 all rose but the changes are hardly dramatic. Let’s move on; there’s far more interesting news on mobile …

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, November 2016

Mobile browser use increased by an impressive 1.78% during November. It smashed through the parity barrier and now accounts for 50.62% of all web activity. Mobile exceeds desktop usage for the first time since the web began.
(Some sites were reporting this event last month and mobile usage did overtake desktop on certain days. However, the overall percentage for October 2016’s mobile use remained below 50%.)

We’ve been waiting some time. The “mobiles-will-overtake-desktop” prediction was raised at least a decade ago, but took longer than most expected. Possible reasons include:

  • It is difficult to do real work on a mobile device. That said, devices have grown exponentially in Asia and Africa in places where the PC revolution never occurred. Millions of people now work and trade on smartphones in ways which are troublesome in the western world. We still struggle with micro-payments and simple transactions regardless of age or financial status.
  • Network bandwidth is slow, unreliable and costly in the majority of countries. There are only so many hours you can surf and a mobile connection will impede progress. There are exciting possibilities for future technologies, but fast, always-on and inexpensive networks remain a dream.
  • The web has evolved from a predominantly desktop-based starting point. The situation has improved with Responsive Web Design and Progressive Web Apps, but many legacy sites are inoperable or impractical on a mobile device.

Does the mobile explosion change our development lives? Probably not if you’ve been reading SitePoint and watching industry trends: you’re already mobile aware. Fortunately, it will be a wake-up call for any client or boss who doubted the growth of the mobile platform or didn’t think it would affect their business. Be prepared for several “how can we make our digital experience better on a smartphone” conversations very soon.

From a technical perspective, I recommend a mobile-first approach:

  1. Design your site/application to work on smaller, narrow screens.
  2. Use media queries to progressively enhance your layout as the screen size increases.
  3. Take a simple, pragmatic approach. If you’re removing a feature because it doesn’t fit on a mobile screen, consider whether it’s necessary to offer it on the desktop.

The top mobile browsing applications for the month were:

Mobile Browser October November change relative
Chrome 40.64% 43.22% +2.58% +6.30%
iPhone 16.69% 17.43% +0.74% +4.40%
UC Browser 17.90% 16.73% -1.17% -6.50%
Opera Mini/Mobile 8.64% 8.38% -0.26% -3.00%
Samsung Internet 6.52% 6.39% -0.13% -2.00%
Android 5.83% 5.28% -0.55% -9.40%
IEMobile 1.13% 1.02% -0.11% -9.70%
Others 2.65% 1.55% -1.10% -41.50%

Chrome continues its meteoric rise at the expense of all others (especially Android Mobile, which it supersedes). While I don’t use Chrome as my default desktop browser, I have no hesitation in recommending it on mobile. I’m yet to find an alternative which offers a better experience.

The iPhone edition of Safari and UC Browser continue to dance round each other. Following a month at the coveted #2 spot, UC Browser has been knocked back once again. However, the dominance of mobile usage will encourage people to look for better smartphone applications. Take note, Apple: your lacklustre attitude to Safari and the web could hit profitability sooner than you think.

The biggest faller was the “others” group. More than 40% of those users migrated to a mainstream browser. Perhaps it’s a statistical blip, or my underdog browser article from last month didn’t help their cause?!

See you next month for a round-up of the major browser events of 2016.