Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android browser continues its ascent to the top of the mobile browser market-share rankings.
In February, the browser’s market share surpassed that of the Opera browser for the first time, although a peculiarity in StatCounter measurements put Google in first place overall rather than Apple’s iOS version of Safari. The key point, though, is that the rising popularity of the Android browser reflects the rising adoption of Android devices.
Confusion over which browser actually ranks first stems from the fact that StatCounter logs iPhone and iPod Touch users separately, though both devices utilize the Safari browser, and the combination makes Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) the true victor, with a February market share of 25.09%. Android’s browser landed a respectable 22.67%, up from 21.39% in January. Opera was next with 21.7%.
Opera differs from the other two browsers in that it has to be downloaded and installed as an application. Safari comes preinstalled in Apple devices and the Android browser is built into phones running that operating system. While it is possible to download a browser and use it in place of a preinstalled browser, many users, particularly new-device owners, stick with what is provided.
The popularity of the Android browser and of Safari relates directly to device adoption, a correlation made clear by the sales figures for Android smartphones and iPhones and iPads. Android device sales surged to a 50.9% smartphone market share in fourth quarter 2011, up 30.5% year-over-year. Apple, or iOS, devices also increased in that period but only to 23.8% from 15.8%. Apple will see a sales spike with the forthcoming launch of the iPad 3, but Android was the belle of the ball at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona last week.
The Chrome factor
Despite strong Android smartphone sales, however, the browser’s big footprint in the mobile realm likely will soon shrink. One of its biggest challengers, in fact, will come from within the house of Google. The newly launched mobile version of Google’s Chrome browser received positive reviews for its improved functionality, and it offers a more appealing interface than the somewhat Spartan Android browser. Chrome will likely become the preloaded browser in future devices equipped with the Android operating system, which will nudge the Android browser from dominance.
The mobile version of Chrome, currently available only for the relatively small selection of devices equipped with Android 4.0, is poised to find a large audience due to its popularity among computer users. StatCounter found in December that Chrome led in European markets. In the U.S., it is nearly tied in market share with Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer. Google — which has faced negative press over its privacy policies and privacy issues connected to apps developed for Android — plans to make Chrome available for use on a wide variety of devices, which would greatly expand its potential user base.