Browser Trends February 2016: Mobile Market Decline?

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We’re already one-twelfth of the way into the year, so let’s examine the latest StatCounter statistics to discover the winners and losers in the browser market …

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, December 2015 to January 2016

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

Browser December January change relative
IE (all) 15.16% 14.62% -0.54% -3.60%
IE11 10.26% 10.19% -0.07% -0.70%
IE10 1.37% 1.29% -0.08% -5.80%
IE9 1.44% 1.29% -0.15% -10.40%
IE6/7/8 2.09% 1.85% -0.24% -11.50%
Edge 1.46% 1.69% +0.23% +15.80%
Chrome 53.71% 54.33% +0.62% +1.20%
Firefox 14.29% 14.58% +0.29% +2.00%
Safari 4.85% 4.17% -0.68% -14.00%
iPad Safari 5.08% 5.27% +0.19% +3.70%
Opera 2.07% 1.92% -0.15% -7.20%
Others 3.38% 3.42% +0.04% +1.20%

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

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

Browser January 2015 January 2016 change relative
IE (all) 19.26% 14.62% -4.64% -24.10%
IE11 10.74% 10.19% -0.55% -5.10%
IE10 1.94% 1.29% -0.65% -33.50%
IE9 2.53% 1.29% -1.24% -49.00%
IE6/7/8 4.05% 1.85% -2.20% -54.30%
Chrome 48.26% 54.33% +6.07% +12.60%
Firefox 16.96% 14.58% -2.38% -14.00%
Safari 10.27% 9.44% -0.83% -8.10%
Opera 1.52% 1.92% +0.40% +26.30%
Others 3.73% 5.11% +1.38% +37.00%

(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. Edge’s user base grew 15.8% last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated and StatCounter vs NetMarketShare.)

Another month, another Chrome increase. 0.62% is nothing special, but other vendors can only dream such delights. Firefox and Edge enjoyed a small jump, but it was fairly depressing news for others.

Google doesn’t get everything right with Chrome, but they don’t do much wrong, either. It’s not the fastest or most stable browser but, for typical web users, Chrome is an easy option. It smoothly integrates with Google services and synchronizes with mobile devices.

Talking of mobile …

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, December 2015 to January 2016

January’s mobile usage increased 0.4% to reach 41.04% of all web activity. The predicted 50:50 desktop/mobile ratio is approaching. However, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between devices. Is a phablet or tablet truly mobile? How do you classify a hybrid device such as a Microsoft Surface Pro? Perhaps the metric will become meaningless; they’re all connected computing devices.

The top mobile browsing applications for January 2016 were:

Mobile Browser December January change relative
Chrome 36.94% 37.69% +0.75% +2.00%
UC Browser 18.57% 18.63% +0.06% +0.30%
iPhone 17.90% 18.31% +0.41% +2.30%
Opera Mini/Mobile 11.17% 10.91% -0.26% -2.30%
Android 10.87% 10.24% -0.63% -5.80%
IEMobile 2.04% 1.90% -0.14% -6.90%
Others 2.51% 2.32% -0.19% -7.60%

Chrome, UC Browser and Safari on the iPhone all made modest gains, but remember these figures report mobile web browsing usage — not handset purchases.

January’s business news was dominated by stories of Apple’s flat-lining iPhone numbers. 74.8 million sales in three months hardly constitutes an economic crisis, but mobile manufacturers have reason to be cautious about the long-term future of the smartphone market:

  • Competition has improved and devices are less expensive. A cheap handset can be one-tenth the cost of an iPhone yet offer 90% of the functionality — if not more.
  • The rate of technical development has slowed. Devices become faster and displays get better, but new features are less essential and more gimmicky.
  • Everyone who wants a smartphone almost certainly has one.

Neither Apple or Samsung are experiencing the exponential growth they once enjoyed.

An early casualty was Firefox OS, and there have been recent rumors about the death of Microsoft Windows Phone. The devices are generally good and sold at reasonable prices (Microsoft makes a loss on the hardware), but the platform has struggled against Android and Apple owing to a lack of software. Few developers bother to create Windows Phone apps because usage is low. And usage remains low because there are so few apps.

Microsoft is yet to make an official statement. Windows Phone will continue to be sold, but don’t expect to be able to upgrade to the next version of the platform (possibly the Surface Phone). Presuming there is a next version …

I suspect the smartphone market has reached saturation point — much like it did for PCs. Handsets last several years, and there’s less urgency to upgrade when improvements are more marginal. Manufacturers continue to experiment with companion devices such as tablets and watches, but these have niche appeal.

Should native app developers be concerned about a market slow-down?

Those targeting low-use OSs may be worried. Android and iOS development are safer bets, but all mobile platforms evolve rapidly compared to their desktop cousins. Native apps never have a long-term future without continual upgrades.

If only there were a device-agnostic platform which offered baked-in durability and continued to operate even after technical advances were implemented! I won’t pretend the web is a magic solution but, if we are seeing the first signs of a mobile market decline, the economic and technical justification for web applications just became greater.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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