Programming - - By Craig Buckler

Browser Trends March 2012: IE8 Falls Below 20%

Another month has passed so it’s time to look at the browser market once more. During February, Chrome 16 became the world’s most-used browser version and exceeded IE8’s market share by 5%. Can Chrome continue it’s meteoric rise? Let’s look at the latest worldwide StatCounter statistics to find out…

Browser January February change relative
IE 9.0+ 11.45% 12.09% +0.64% +5.60%
IE 8.0 20.82% 18.86% -1.96% -9.40%
IE 7.0 3.63% 3.32% -0.31% -8.50%
IE 6.0 1.56% 1.48% -0.08% -5.10%
Firefox 4.0+ 20.01% 20.39% +0.38% +1.90%
Firefox 3.7- 4.77% 4.49% -0.28% -5.90%
Chrome 28.45% 29.88% +1.43% +5.00%
Safari 6.61% 6.76% +0.15% +2.30%
Opera 1.96% 2.02% +0.06% +3.10%
Others 0.74% 0.71% -0.03% -4.10%
IE (all) 37.46% 35.75% -1.71% -4.60%
Firefox (all) 24.78% 24.88% +0.10% +0.40%

The table shows market share estimates for desktop browsers. The ‘change’ column shows the absolute increase or decrease in market share. The ‘relative’ column indicates the proportional change, i.e. another 9.4% of IE8 users abandoned the browser last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated.

There’s a little good news for Microsoft: IE8 has become the most-used browser version once again.

The bad news:

  • It only occurred because Google released Chrome 17. Half of Chrome’s user base upgraded last month which resulted in version 17 gaining 13.7% while version 16 retained 13.4%.
  • IE8 slipped below 1 in 5 users for the first time since November 2009.
  • Internet Explorer lost almost 5% of its user base in one month. That’s a shocking figure.

IE10 may be stunning, but it’s unlikely to appear for a while and IE9 is being left behind. Microsoft’s decision to abandon XP users has also back-fired: the aging OS still accounts for more than one in three PC users who must either stick with IE8 or switch to an alternative browser.

Technically, IE8 isn’t too bad and will happily support HTML5 with a little JavaScript shim-magic. But it lacks basic CSS3 features such as rounded corners and shading which we’re all using. The result: sites are usable but look terrible in IE8 when compared with any other browser.

Of course, Microsoft want users to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 so they can use IE9/10. Unfortunately, that won’t happen quickly. Even if the economy and costs were not factors, large organizations implement long-term IT plans and upgrading thousands of users takes time. The PC market has also been saturated for several years; many individuals will stick with XP until their machine breaks down and they’re forced to buy a replacement. And let’s not forget that XP remains a capable OS; some users prefer it and Microsoft would not contemplate withdrawing support for major products such as Office.

Microsoft has a simple choice: either release IE9/10 on XP or continue to lose massive chunks of market share. There will be technical hurdles but IE9 already has a software rendering mode and few would complain if the XP version was slower. The relatively tiny Opera can create a modern HTML5 browser which works on Windows 2000 — Microsoft has few excuses. Users are increasingly browser-literate and, once they’ve switched to an alternative, it’ll be tougher to get them back on IE.

Usage patterns are not quite so straight-forward, but the bulk of those IE users switched to Chrome. If anything, the browser’s market share gains appear to be accelerating as its user base expands. There’s no sign of the predicted growth plateau.

Mozilla Firefox held steady at 25%. Version 10 has been well received and many of the memory and add-on glitches which frustrated users have been solved. Mozilla hasn’t reversed the downtrend, but Firefox’s future looks brighter.

Safari and Opera both enjoyed modest gains. Significantly, Opera has broken through the 2% barrier once again — it’s been below that level for more than 12 months.

Mobile Browser Usage

Mobiles accounted for 8.53% of all web activity during February 2012.

The primary mobile browsing applications are:

  1. Android — 22.67% (up 1.28%)
  2. Opera Mini/Mobile — 21.70% (down 1.64%)
  3. iPhone — 21.06% (up 1.55%)
  4. Nokia browser — 11.24% (down 0.58%)
  5. Blackberry — 6.53% (down 0.15%)

The top three have almost identical usage figures but Opera has been knocked off the top spot for the first time. The Android browser has been rising steadily at a rate similar to Chrome — it’s desktop cousin.

Blackberry has fallen a little further. It held a 19% share just 18 months ago which illustrates just how fickle the mobile market can be.

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