Browser Trends September 2016: Are the Browser Wars Over?

Craig Buckler
Craig Buckler

Are the browser wars over?

In August we discussed a few of Chrome’s rivals. Did it encourage you to try another browser? The latest StatCounter browser statistics provide the facts …

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, July to August 2016

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

Browser July August change relative
Chrome 58.40% 58.44% +0.04% +0.10%
Firefox 13.96% 13.96% +0.00% +0.00%
IE11 7.38% 7.52% +0.14% +1.90%
oldIE 2.38% 2.30% -0.08% -3.40%
Edge 2.79% 2.88% +0.09% +3.20%
Safari 4.15% 4.23% +0.08% +1.90%
iPad Safari 5.60% 5.38% -0.22% -3.90%
Opera 1.75% 1.76% +0.01% +0.60%
Others 3.59% 3.53% -0.06% -1.70%

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

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

Browser August 2015 August 2016 change relative
Chrome 52.97% 58.44% +5.47% +10.30%
Firefox 15.60% 13.96% -1.64% -10.50%
IE11 9.94% 7.52% -2.42% -24.30%
oldIE 6.05% 2.30% -3.75% -62.00%
Edge 0.74% 2.88% +2.14% +289.20%
Safari 9.30% 9.61% +0.31% +3.30%
Opera 1.79% 1.76% -0.03% -1.70%
Others 3.61% 3.53% -0.08% -2.20%

(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 3.2% last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated and StatCounter vs NetMarketShare.)

The middle of the year rarely provides big browser news given vacations and the lack of big OS and software releases. However, I do not recall a month when less happened! There was barely any movement in the charts.

Even the twelve-month figures have begun to stabilize. Chrome gained almost 5.5% and Edge usage has grown since its release this time last year. Unsurprisingly, oldIE usage has more than halved but the other browsers are mostly static.

Have the browser wars ended?

Browser War I

The first and most bloody browser war raged between Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator between 1996 and 2001. The web was new and the applications evolved rapidly from one month to the next. CSS and JavaScript arrived and the browsers competed on innovative features.

Microsoft was fined for questionable business practices, but IE eventually won because it was better. By 2001, IE6 had a seemingly unassailable 95% market share.

Browser War II

Microsoft had a few competitors:

  • Opera. The browser had a passionate following, but few people were willing to pay a $50 license fee when IE and other options were free.
  • The Mozilla Suite. The Gecko rendering engine was a ground-up rewrite of the old Netscape HTML parser, but it was stuck in a slow and bloated set of browser, email, newsgroups, editor, IRC client and address book applications.

An experimental Mozilla browser which adopted Gecko was launched as “Phoenix” in September 2002. The application became an immediate hit with developers who had become frustrated with Microsoft’s complacency. Trademark disputes led to the name being changed to “Firebird” and ultimately “Firefox” in February 2004.

Another skirmish ensued and Microsoft was forced back into the browser market. Firefox eventually gained around one third of the market in 2010 but IE held the dominant top spot.

Browser War III

Google released Chrome in 2008. The name was adopted because Google wanted to minimize the chrome (outer interface) of the browser so users could concentrate on page content. Google stated they were reluctant to create their own application, but it quickly became evident their online commercial clout could beat Microsoft — especially when IE had become an in-joke for all that was wrong in the industry.

Chrome overtook IE in June 2012 and has been there ever since. The other vendors took note and, rather than competing on features, began to simplify and streamline their applications. (Only the recently released Vivaldi is attempting to buck the trend).

In 2016, few people would notice the differences between Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari and Opera. They’re all excellent applications with capable rendering engines. The market has matured and stabilized. New features are more infrequent, but users are happy regardless of their choice.

Like any product, the diminished browser differentiation was inevitable. An application can only survive if it appeals to the masses, so the most successful traits are duplicated while lesser-used features are dropped. Life may be less colorful, but we finally have what we’ve been demanding for twenty years: good cross-browser compatibility.

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, July to August 2016

Mobile browser use has been edging closer to 50%, but dropped 0.88% in August, and now accounts for 46.31% of all web activity. The long-term trend is clear and mobile should overtake desktop usage at some point in the next twelve months.

The top mobile browsing applications for the month were:

Mobile Browser July August change relative
Chrome 38.56% 39.02% +0.46% +1.20%
iPhone 18.53% 18.77% +0.24% +1.30%
UC Browser 14.39% 14.28% -0.11% -0.80%
Opera Mini/Mobile 11.22% 10.91% -0.31% -2.80%
Samsung Internet 6.55% 6.95% +0.40% +6.10%
Android 7.29% 6.81% -0.48% -6.60%
IEMobile 1.47% 1.38% -0.09% -6.10%
Others 1.99% 1.88% -0.11% -5.50%

There’s little change other than the stock Android browser falling behind the Samsung Internet browser. Activity often fluctuates more than the desktop market:

  1. The mobile market is younger and innovations continue to occur. Features such as Progressive Web Applications are blurring the line between native and web apps.
  2. Smart-phone vendors can have a significant impact. Users often stick with the default browser, so successful phones rapidly push applications up the chart.

That said, mobile OSs have converged to just Android and iOS. Alternatives such Windows Mobile, Blackberry, webOS, Firefox OS, Symbian and others have all but disappeared. There’s less choice, but the market has streamlined as people rejected the less-popular options.

Perhaps it’s a shame, but I doubt we’ll encounter another significant browser war until the web itself changes dramatically.