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Browser Trends January 2015: IE8 Usage … Triples?!

By Craig Buckler

In last month’s browser trends report, Internet Explorer slipped further below the 20% mark but the latest figures from StatCounter indicate some strange user behavior…

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, November to December 2014

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

Browser November December change relative
IE (all) 19.60% 22.28% +2.68% +13.70%
IE11 10.79% 11.31% +0.52% +4.80%
IE10 2.38% 2.23% -0.15% -6.30%
IE9 2.80% 2.89% +0.09% +3.20%
IE6/7/8 3.63% 5.85% +2.22% +61.20%
Chrome 48.15% 46.22% -1.93% -4.00%
Firefox 16.76% 16.34% -0.42% -2.50%
Safari 4.45% 4.24% -0.21% -4.70%
iPad Safari 6.13% 6.05% -0.08% -1.30%
Opera 1.39% 1.38% -0.01% -0.70%
Others 3.52% 3.49% -0.03% -0.90%

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, December 2013 to December 2014

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

Browser December 2013 December 2014 change relative
IE (all) 23.22% 22.28% -0.94% -4.00%
IE11 6.33% 11.31% +4.98% +78.70%
IE10 5.49% 2.23% -3.26% -59.40%
IE9 3.95% 2.89% -1.06% -26.80%
IE6/7/8 7.45% 5.85% -1.60% -21.50%
Chrome 43.99% 46.22% +2.23% +5.10%
Firefox 18.94% 16.34% -2.60% -13.70%
Safari 9.13% 10.29% +1.16% +12.70%
Opera 1.28% 1.38% +0.10% +7.80%
Others 3.44% 3.49% +0.05% +1.50%

(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. 4.7% of Safari desktop users switched browsers last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated.)

December isn’t always a ‘normal’ month but 2014 was especially weird. Chrome dropped almost 2% while Internet Explorer increased by 2.7%. Microsoft won’t be celebrating though: more than 80% of the gain was for IE8. Why?

It took me some time to trace where the growth occurred. Windows XP is the primary candidate for IE8 and the OS is heavily used throughout Asia. But that wasn’t the source. IE8 usage dropped everywhere — except the USA. During December, IE8 usage tripled from 5.03% to 14.37%.

Have US web users suddenly turned nostalgic for ancient browsers? One potential explanation could be the high profile corporate hacks and denial of service (DoS) attacks on the Xbox and Sony gaming networks. DoS attacks generally rely on malware distributed to thousands of devices — and Windows XP is an easier target than most. Presuming the malware cloned the default browser’s user agent string, it could look as though traffic originated from IE8. That said, you would expect a worldwide increase and the targets were not likely to be typical websites tracked by StatCounter.

StatCounter has not reported any issues, so the simplest explanation for the US IE8 growth is a bizarre seasonal statistical anomaly. But let us know your wild conspiracy theories!

The blip means it’s difficult to comment on the performance of other browsers — they all dropped. Firefox lost half a point. Interestingly, StatCounter did comment that Yahoo is used three times more often on Firefox in the US now that it’s become the default search engine for version 34.

Elsewhere, Safari on Mac desktop shed almost 5% of its user base but Opera emerged relatively unscathed.

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, November to December 2014

Mobile usage in December 2014 increased by 0.4% to reach 34.03% of all web activity. I guess many new phones where received.

The top mobile browsing applications:

Mobile Browser November December change relative
Chrome 29.55% 29.76% +0.21% +0.70%
iPhone 21.48% 21.94% +0.46% +2.10%
Android 20.47% 18.87% -1.60% -7.80%
UC Browser 9.94% 11.10% +1.16% +11.70%
Opera Mini/Mobile 8.96% 9.11% +0.15% +1.70%
Nokia Browser 2.93% 2.83% -0.10% -3.40%
IEMobile 2.39% 2.15% -0.24% -10.00%
Others 4.28% 4.24% -0.04% -0.90%

Surprisingly, Chrome could only manage a 0.2% increase given the Android browser dropped 1.6% during the same period. Other users may have migrated to UC Browser which saw an unexpected 1.2% jump.

Safari saw a small increase — perhaps lots of lucky people were given a shiny new iPhone 6?

Overall, the mobile chart seems less unusual but it’s best we take another look in February when normality returns. Happy New Year!

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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