'iPad effect' produces surprising browser share results

While Internet Explorer continues to lose market share on the desktop, iPad blows doors off both Android and iPhone browser usage

September was a cruel month, at least for Internet Explorer.

Microsoft's browser lost almost a full percentage point in market share compared to August, sinking to 54.4 percent of the total for desktop and laptop machines, according to Net Applications' latest statistics. Firefox is holding steady, Chrome continues to grow -- up nearly a full percentage point in one month. Those TV ads help. Safari, for the first time in living memory, went over 5 percent, proof positive that Macs continue to make up for lost time.


(Net Applications measures the number of visits to about 40,000 websites all over the world, then adjusts the statistics to take into account population and global Internet access differences.)

It doesn't take a multivariate regression analysis to see that Internet Explorer's well on its way to a 50 percent share. I talked about that dubious goal back in June. It's equally clear, looking at the graph, that Chrome's on a roll and may well overtake Firefox in the next five or six months. The blip you see in IE market share in February is due to a change in Net Applications' weighting scheme; the bump in July corresponds with Net Applications pulling out mobile browser numbers and reporting them separately.

Microsoft likes to look at the numbers a different way, of course, reporting that the percentage of left-handed flugelhorn players using Internet Explorer 9 in ... er, the market share of Internet Explorer 9 users on U.S. Windows 7 PCs has increased and now exceeds 30 percent. At least in Redmond the IE glass is, remarkably, half full.

Far more interesting are mobile browsing numbers. Desktop browsing dwarfs mobile browsing, but the tide's turning rapidly. StatCounter, for example, estimates that about 3 percent of all browsing that took place a year ago was done from a mobile platform (primarily phone or tablet). In September that percentage increased to about 7 percent -- phenomenal growth, but the numbers aren't solid enough for me to feel completely comfortable with them. Be that as it may, the amount of mobile browsing is certainly increasing rapidly, and it's a key target market for many companies.


Here's what's remarkable. In the past three months, Android phones have outsold iOS phones by about two to one. You would expect that Android-based browsing would show a strong increase, with a concomitant decrease in iOS-based Web activity. At least, that's what I expected -- I was wrong.

According to Net Applications' numbers, Safari (the browser used in iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) has grown from 42 percent market share last September to almost 56 percent this September, with a 1.5 percent share gain in the past month. Android's browser has grown from 8 percent a year ago to 16 percent this September, but it only inched up by less than half a percentage point in the past month.

What's going on? I believe we're witnessing an iPad effect. Android and iPhone browser usage may be up in proportion to the sales figures, but the iPad is blowing the doors off both, and it's dragging the Safari score along with it.

Every indication is that browsing on the iPad has come of age.

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