Ex-Microsoft Intern: Google Deliberately Crippled Edge Browser

This site may earn affiliate commissions from the links on this page. Terms of use.

Allowing any one company too much control over the internet and the long-term development of web standards has always been a bad idea. It didn’t work well in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the de facto standard, and it isn’t likely to be a particularly great outcome in 2018, either, now that Chromium has emerged as the single dominant player in browsing. According to a former Edge intern/developer, Microsoft has given up on its own EdgeHTML engine because it couldn’t keep up with the ways Google kept breaking major websites to disadvantage it.

In a post at Hacker News, JoshuaJB (identified via Neowin as Joshua Bakita), in response to a post theorizing that Google could exploit its dominance by integrating preferential support to boost Google app performance at the expense of other platforms or products, writes:

This is already happening. I very recently worked on the Edge team, and one of the reasons we decided to end EdgeHTML was because Google kept making changes to its sites that broke other browsers, and we couldn’t keep up. For example, they recently added a hidden empty div over YouTube videos that causes our hardware acceleration fast-path to bail (should now be fixed in Win10 Oct update). Prior to that, our fairly state-of-the-art video acceleration put us well ahead of Chrome on video playback time on battery, but almost the instant they broke things on YouTube, they started advertising Chrome’s dominance over Edge on video-watching battery life. What makes it so sad, is that their claimed dominance was not due to ingenious optimization work by Chrome, but due to a failure of YouTube. On the whole, they only made the web slower.

Now while I’m not sure I’m convinced that YouTube was changed intentionally to slow Edge, many of my co-workers are quite convinced — and they’re the ones who looked into it personally. To add to this all, when we asked, YouTube turned down our request to remove the hidden empty div and did not elaborate further.

And this is only one case.

The irony of defending Edge and Microsoft after years of decrying the way Redmond has shoved everyone towards using Edge at every opportunity is not lost on me. Neither is the irony of defending Microsoft in general. The company’s hostility towards open source development and its fondness for monopoly may have faded somewhat in recent years, but they’ve scarcely been forgotten.

stupid-ad-2

What we needed was a happy medium between “One browser rules the Earth” and “Your browser is malware.” Image by Thurrot.com

But I don’t need to stick up for the way Microsoft pushed people to use Edge to see the danger in giving any single company too much control over standards and practices. We don’t know if the story above is actually true — as of this writing, it hasn’t been independently confirmed. But it’s not hard to believe, and we’ve seen historical examples of how this kind of monopoly can work against companies that attempt to create alternatives. IE6 dominated the internet to such a degree that websites were often programmed to perform well in Internet Explorer, even when this broke standards or failed to conform to best practices. Competing browsers that attempted to implement standards correctly would then fail to work with IE6 pages.

Ars Technica gives another example of how Google has designed sites like YouTube to favor its own approach, to the detriment of other browsers.

As another example, YouTube uses a feature called HTML imports to load scripts. HTML imports haven’t been widely adopted, either by developers or browsers alike, and ECMAScript modules are expected to serve the same role. But they’re available in Chrome and used by YouTube. For Firefox and Edge, YouTube sends a JavaScript implementation of HTML imports which carries significant performance overheads. The result? YouTube pages that load in a second in Chrome take many seconds to load in other browsers.

The fact that Chromium is open source won’t ultimately matter much if one company still represents the overwhelming force behind its development and the associated development of future web standards. In mobile, Apple still has some sway, thanks to Safari on the iPhone. But Mozilla Firefox, with its 9 percent market share, is now the only bulwark against Chrome’s total domination of the desktop browser market.

Now Read:

Which Browsers Should Your Website Support?

This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

The question “which browsers should my website/app support?” is often raised by clients and developers. The simple answer is a list of the top N mainstream applications. But has that policy become irrelevant?

What are the Most-used Browsers?

The top ten desktop browsers according to StatCounter for May 2017 were:

  1. Chrome — 59.37% market share
  2. Firefox — 12.76%
  3. Safari — 10.55%
  4. IE — 8.32%
  5. Edge — 3.42%
  6. Opera — 1.99%
  7. Android (tablet) — 1.24%
  8. Yandex Browser — 0.48%
  9. UC Browser — 0.41%
  10. Coc Coc — 0.33%

Mobile now accounts for 54.25% of all web use so we also need to examine the top ten phone browsers:

  1. Chrome — 49.23%
  2. Safari — 17.73%
  3. UC Browser — 15.89%
  4. Samsung Internet — 6.58%
  5. Opera — 5.03%
  6. Android — 3.75%
  7. IEMobile — 0.68%
  8. BlackBerry — 0.26%
  9. Edge — 0.15%
  10. Nokia — 0.12%

The worldwide statistics don’t tell the whole story:

  • Patterns vary significantly across regions. For example, Yandex is the second most-used Russian browser (12.7% share). Sogou is the third most-used browser in China (6.5%). Opera Mobile/Mini has a 28% share in Africa.
  • New browser releases appear regularly. Chrome, Firefox and Opera receive updates every six weeks; it would be impractical to check versions going back more than a few months.
  • The same browsers can work differently across devices and operating systems. Chrome is available for various editions of Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS and ChromeOS, but it’s not the same application everywhere.
  • There is an exceedingly long tail of old and new, weird and wonderful browsers on a range of devices including games consoles, ebook readers and smart TVs.
  • Your site’s analytics will never match global statistics.

Are Browsers So Different?

Despite the organic variety of applications, all browsers have the same goal: to render web pages. They achieve this with a rendering engine and there is some cross-pollination:

  1. Webkit is used in Safari on macOS and iOS.
  2. Blink is a fork of Webkit now used in Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi and Brave.
  3. Gecko is used in Firefox.
  4. Trident is used in Internet Explorer.
  5. EdgeHTML is an update of Trident used in Edge.

The majority of browsers use one of these engines. They’re different projects with diverse teams but the companies (mostly) collaborate via the W3C to ensure new technologies are adopted by everyone in the same way. Browsers are closer than they’ve ever been, and modern smartphone applications are a match for their desktop counterparts.

However, no two browsers render in quite the same way. The majority of differences are subtle, but they become more pronounced as you move toward cutting-edge technologies. A particular feature may be fully implemented in one browser, partially implemented in another, and non-existent elsewhere.

Can My Site Work in Every Browser?

Yes. Techniques such as progressive enhancement (PE) establish a baseline (perhaps HTML only) then enhance with CSS and JavaScript when support is available. Recent browsers get a modern layout, animated effects and interactive widgets. Ancient browsers may get unstyled HTML only. Everything else gets something in between.

PE works well for content sites and apps with basic form-based functionality. It becomes less practical as you move toward applications with rich custom interfaces. Your new collaborative video editing app is unlikely to work in the decade-old IE7. It may not work on a small screen device over a 3G network. Perhaps it’s possible to provide an alternative interface but the result could be a separate, clunky application few would want to use. The cost would be prohibitive given the size of the legacy browser user base.

Site Owner Recommendations

Site owners should appreciate the following fundamentals and constraints of the web.

The web is not print!
Your site/app will not look identical everywhere. Each device has a different OS, browser, screen size, capabilities etc.

Functionality can differ
Your site can work for everyone but experiences and facilities will vary. Even something as basic as a date entry field can has a diverse range of possibilities but, ideally, the core application will remain operable.

Assess your project
Be realistic. Is this a content site, a simple app, a desktop-like application, a fast-action game etc. Establish a base level of browser compatibility. For example, it must work on most two-year-old browsers with a screen width of 600 pixels over a fast Wi-Fi connection.

Assess your audience
Don’t rely on global browser statistics. Who are the primary users? Are they IT novices or highly technical? Is it individuals, small companies or government organisations? Do they sit at a desk or are they on the move? No application applies to everyone — concentrate on the core users first.

Examine the analytics of your existing system where possible but appreciate the underlying data. If your app doesn’t work in Opera Mini, you’re unlikely to have Opera Mini users. Have you blocked a significant proportion of your market?

Change happens
It’s amazing that a web page coded twenty years ago works today. It won’t necessarily be pretty or usable but browsers remain backward compatible. (Mostly. The tag can stay dead!) However, technology evolves. The more complex your site or application, the more likely it will require ongoing maintenance.

Web Developer Recommendations

With a little care it’s possible to support a huge variety of browsers.

Embrace the web!
The web is a device-agnostic platform. Content and simpler interfaces can work everywhere: a modern laptop, a feature phone, a games console, IE6, etc. Learn the basics of progressive enhancement. Even if you choose not to adopt it for your full application, there will be pockets of functionality where it becomes invaluable.

Adopt Defensive Development Techniques
Consider the problem before reaching for the nearest pre-written module, library or framework. Understand the consequences of that technology before you start. Frameworks should provide a browser support list because they have been tested in limited number of applications.

Learn about browser limits and quirks. For example, if you’re considering an SVG chart, be aware that it can look odd in IE9 to 11 and fail in IE8 and below. That doesn’t mean it’s a binary choice of rejecting SVGs or abandoning IE support. There are always compromises which do not incur significant development. For example:

  • accept SVG rendering is weird but it remains usable
  • only show a table of data in IE, or
  • provide an SVG download which IE users can open elsewhere.

Test early and test often
You cannot possibly test every device, but developing for a single browser is futile.

Continually test your project in a variety of applications. Leaving testing to the end will have catastrophic consequences. It’s easy for us to blame tools and browser inadequacies, but the majority of issues can be rectified during the development process if they’re spotted early.

That’s not to say everything must work identically in every browser every time. Feature regressions are inevitable. For example:

  • Progressive Web Apps do not work offline on iPhones and iPads — but online operation is fine.
  • CSS Grid is not supported in IE — but float, flexbox or full-width block fallbacks should be acceptable.
  • The desktop edition of Firefox does not show a calendar for date fields — but users can still enter one.

Install a selection of browsers on your development PC. Mac and Linux users can obtain Microsoft Edge and IE testing tools at developer.microsoft.com/microsoft-edge/. It’s more difficult for Windows and Linux users to test Safari; online test services such as BrowserStack are the easiest option.

Modern browsers have excellent mobile emulation facilities, but use a few real devices to appreciate touch control and performance on slower hardware and networks.

Use HTTPS on your end

The web is gradually making HTTPS the preferred protocol, and this trend is going to continue. Google Chrome is even starting to indicate that non-HTTPS sites as insecure, which is a good reason for you to configure your site to use HTTPS. Our web hosting partner, SiteGround, for example, made it easy for their clients to make the move to HTTPS. To do that, they automated the installation of Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates for all new WordPress accounts, and for existing ones, they made the switch to HTTPS possible with just a click.

You Haven’t Answered the Question!

The question “which browsers should you support?” has become too restrictive. Presume your answer was just “Chrome”:

  • which devices and OS is it running on?
  • what range of screen sizes will be supported?
  • which version are you referring to? The latest? Chrome 10 and above?
  • what happens when a new version of Chrome is released?
  • what will happen in other browsers when Chrome effectively becomes your application’s runtime?

Providing a browser support list has become impractical for client-facing projects. Perhaps the best answer is: “we’ll develop your project according to presumed demographics then test as in many devices, OSes, browsers, and versions as possible according to budget and time constraints”. Even then, you’ll miss that aging Blackberry the CEO insists on using.

Develop for the web — not browsers.

Which Browsers Should Your Website Support?

browser check list

This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

The question: “which browsers should my website/app support?” is often raised by clients and developers. The simple answer is a list of the top N mainstream applications. But has that policy become irrelevant?

What are the Most-Used Browsers?

The top ten desktop browsers according to StatCounter for May 2017 are:

  1. Chrome — 59.37% market share
  2. Firefox — 12.76%
  3. Safari — 10.55%
  4. IE — 8.32%
  5. Edge — 3.42%
  6. Opera — 1.99%
  7. Android (tablet) — 1.24%
  8. Yandex Browser — 0.48%
  9. UC Browser — 0.41%
  10. Coc Coc — 0.33%

Mobile now accounts for 54.25% of all web use so we also need to examine the top ten phone browsers:

  1. Chrome — 49.23%
  2. Safari — 17.73%
  3. UC Browser — 15.89%
  4. Samsung Internet — 6.58%
  5. Opera — 5.03%
  6. Android — 3.75%
  7. IEMobile — 0.68%
  8. BlackBerry — 0.26%
  9. Edge — 0.15%
  10. Nokia — 0.12%

The worldwide statistics don’t tell the whole story:

  • Patterns vary significantly across regions. For example, Yandex is the second most-used Russian browser (12.7% share). Sogou is the third most-used browser in China (6.5%). Opera Mobile/Mini has a 28% share in Africa.
  • New browser releases appear regularly. Chrome, Firefox and Opera receive updates every six weeks — it would be impractical to check versions going back more than a few months.
  • The same browsers can work differently across devices and operating systems. Chrome is available for various editions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS and ChromeOS but it’s not the same application everywhere.
  • There is an exceedingly long tail of old and new, weird and wonderful browsers on a range of devices including games consoles, ebook readers and smart TVs.
  • Your site’s analytics will never match global statistics.

Are Browsers So Different?

Despite the organic variety of applications, all browsers have the same goal: to render web pages. They achieve this with a rendering engine and there is some cross-pollination:

  1. Webkit is used in Safari on Mac OS and iOS.
  2. Blink is a fork of Webkit now used in Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi and Brave.
  3. Gecko is used in Firefox.
  4. Trident is used in Internet Explorer.
  5. EdgeHTML is an update of Trident used in Edge.

The majority of browsers use one of these engines. They’re different projects with diverse teams but the companies (mostly) collaborate via the W3C to ensure new technologies are adopted by everyone in the same way. Browsers are closer than they’ve ever been and modern smartphone applications are a match for their desktop counterparts.

However, no two browsers render in quite the same way. The majority of differences are subtle but they become more pronounced as you move toward cutting-edge technologies. A particular feature may be fully implemented in one browser, partially implemented in another, and non-existent elsewhere.

Can My Site Work in Every Browser?

Yes. Techniques such as Progressive Enhancement (PE) establish a baseline (perhaps HTML only) then enhance with CSS and JavaScript when support is available. Recent browsers get a modern layout, animated effects and interactive widgets. Ancient browsers may get unstyled HTML only. Everything else gets something in between.

PE works well for content sites and apps with basic form-based functionality. It becomes less practical as you move toward applications with rich custom interfaces. Your new collaborative video editing app is unlikely to work in the decade-old IE7. It may not work on a small screen device over a 3G network. Perhaps it’s possible to provide an alternative interface but the result could be a separate, clunky application few would want to use. The cost would be prohibitive given the size of the legacy browser user base.

Site Owner Recommendations

Site owners should appreciate the following fundamentals and constraints of the web.

The web is not print!
Your site/app will not look identical everywhere. Each device has a different OS, browser, screen size, capabilities etc.

Functionality can differ
Your site can work for everyone but experiences and facilities will vary. Even something as basic as a date entry field can has a diverse range of possibilities but, ideally, the core application will remain operable.

Assess your project
Be realistic. Is this a content site, a simple app, a desktop-like application, a fast-action game etc. Establish a base level of browser compatibility, e.g. it must work on most two year-old browsers with a screen width of 600 pixels over a fast wi-fi connection.

Assess your audience
Do not rely on global browser statistics. Who are the primary users? Are they IT novices or highly technical? Is it individuals, small companies or government organisations? Do they sit at a desk or are they on the move? No application applies to everyone — concentrate on the core users first.

Examine the analytics of your existing system where possible but appreciate the underlying data. If your app doesn’t work in Opera Mini, you’re unlikely to have Opera Mini users. Have you blocked a significant proportion of your market?

Change happens
It’s amazing that a web page coded twenty years ago works today. It won’t necessarily be pretty or usable but browsers remain backward compatible. (Mostly. The tag can stay dead!) However, technology evolves. The more complex your site or application, the more likely it will require ongoing maintenance.

Web Developer Recommendations

With a little care it’s possible to support a huge variety of browsers.

Embrace the web!
The web is a device agnostic platform. Content and simpler interfaces can work everywhere: a modern laptop, a feature phone, a games console, IE6, etc. Learn the basics of Progressive Enhancement. Even if you choose not to adopt it for your full application, there will be pockets of functionality where it becomes invaluable.

Adopt Defensive Development Techniques
Consider the problem before reaching for the nearest pre-written module, library or framework. Understand the consequences of that technology before you start. Frameworks should provide a browser support list because they have been tested in limited number of applications.

Learn about browser limits and quirks. For example, if you’re considering an SVG chart, be aware that it can look odd in IE9 to 11 and fail in IE8 and below. That doesn’t mean it’s a binary choice of rejecting SVGs or abandoning IE support. There are always compromises which do not incur significant development, e.g.

  • accept SVG rendering is weird but it remains usable
  • only show a table of data in IE, or
  • provide an SVG download which IE users can open elsewhere.

Test early and test often
You cannot possibly test every device but developing for a single browser is futile.

Continually test your project in a variety of applications. Leaving testing to the end will have catastrophic consequences. It’s easy for us to blame tools and browser inadequacies but the majority of issues can be rectified during the development process if they’re spotted early.

That’s not to say everything must work identically in every browser every time. Feature regressions are inevitable, e.g.

  • Progressive Web Apps do not work offline on iPhones and iPads — but online operation is fine.
  • CSS Grid is not supported in IE — but float, flexbox or full-width block fallbacks should be acceptable.
  • The desktop edition of Firefox does not show a calendar for date fields — but users can still enter one.

Install a selection of browsers on your development PC. Mac and Linux users can obtain Microsoft Edge and IE testing tools at developer.microsoft.com/microsoft-edge/. It’s more difficult for Windows and Linux users to test Safari — online test services such as BrowserStack are the easiest option.

Modern browsers have excellent mobile emulation facilities but use a few real devices to appreciate touch control and performance on slower hardware and networks.

Use HTTPS on your end

The web is gradually making HTTPS the preferred protocol, and this trend is going to continue. Google Chrome will even start to indicate that non-HTTPS sites as insecure, which is a good reason for you to configure your site to use HTTPS. Our web hosting partner, SiteGround, for example, made it easy for their clients to make the move to HTTPS. To do that, they automated the installation of Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates for all new WordPress accounts, and for existing ones, they made the switch to HTTPS possible with just a click.

You Haven’t Answered the Question!

The question “which browsers should you support?” has become too restrictive. Presume your answer was just “Chrome”:

  • which devices and OS is it running on?
  • what range of screen sizes will be supported?
  • which version are you referring to? The latest? Chrome 10 and above?
  • what happens when a new version of Chrome is released?
  • what will happen in other browsers when Chrome effectively becomes your application’s runtime?

Providing a browser support list has become impractical for client-facing projects. Perhaps the best answer is: “we’ll develop your project according to presumed demographics then test as in many devices, OSes, browsers, and versions as possible according to budget and time constraints”. Even then, you’ll miss that aging Blackberry the CEO insists on using.

Develop for the web — not browsers.

Browser Trends December 2016: Mobile Overtakes Desktop

In November, we looked at the underdog browsers adopted by one in thirty web users. The StatCounter browser statistics for December 2016 records a more exciting and momentous event in the web’s history …

Mobile overtakes desktop, November 2016

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, October to November 2016

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

Browser October November change relative
Chrome 59.39% 59.22% -0.17% -0.30%
Firefox 13.28% 13.49% +0.21% +1.60%
IE11 6.95% 6.98% +0.03% +0.40%
oldIE 1.94% 1.81% -0.13% -6.70%
Edge 2.82% 2.93% +0.11% +3.90%
Safari 4.79% 4.69% -0.10% -2.10%
iPad Safari 5.42% 5.68% +0.26% +4.80%
Opera 1.91% 1.82% -0.09% -4.70%
Others 3.50% 3.38% -0.12% -3.40%

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

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

Browser November 2015 November 2016 change relative
Chrome 54.27% 59.22% +4.95% +9.10%
Firefox 14.70% 13.49% -1.21% -8.20%
IE11 10.40% 6.98% -3.42% -32.90%
oldIE 5.05% 1.81% -3.24% -64.20%
Edge 1.21% 2.93% +1.72% +142.10%
Safari 9.34% 10.37% +1.03% +11.00%
Opera 1.77% 1.82% +0.05% +2.80%
Others 3.26% 3.38% +0.12% +3.70%

(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. 6.7% of oldIE users migrated elsewhere last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated and StatCounter vs NetMarketShare.)

Chrome experienced an uncharacteristic fall. I’m secretly pleased; I predicted Google’s browser wouldn’t reach 60% before the end of 2016! That said, -0.17% is hardly a major setback, and my predictions are notoriously awful. No doubt everyone will switch to Chrome during the next month just to prove me wrong!

A fall for Chrome generally means good news for other applications. Firefox, Edge and even IE11 all rose but the changes are hardly dramatic. Let’s move on; there’s far more interesting news on mobile …

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, November 2016

Mobile browser use increased by an impressive 1.78% during November. It smashed through the parity barrier and now accounts for 50.62% of all web activity. Mobile exceeds desktop usage for the first time since the web began.

(Some sites were reporting this event last month and mobile usage did overtake desktop on certain days. However, the overall percentage for October 2016’s mobile use remained below 50%.)

We’ve been waiting some time. The “mobiles-will-overtake-desktop” prediction was raised at least a decade ago, but took longer than most expected. Possible reasons include:

  • It is difficult to do real work on a mobile device. That said, devices have grown exponentially in Asia and Africa in places where the PC revolution never occurred. Millions of people now work and trade on smartphones in ways which are troublesome in the western world. We still struggle with micro-payments and simple transactions regardless of age or financial status.
  • Network bandwidth is slow, unreliable and costly in the majority of countries. There are only so many hours you can surf and a mobile connection will impede progress. There are exciting possibilities for future technologies, but fast, always-on and inexpensive networks remain a dream.
  • The web has evolved from a predominantly desktop-based starting point. The situation has improved with Responsive Web Design and Progressive Web Apps, but many legacy sites are inoperable or impractical on a mobile device.

Does the mobile explosion change our development lives? Probably not if you’ve been reading SitePoint and watching industry trends: you’re already mobile aware. Fortunately, it will be a wake-up call for any client or boss who doubted the growth of the mobile platform or didn’t think it would affect their business. Be prepared for several “how can we make our digital experience better on a smartphone” conversations very soon.

From a technical perspective, I recommend a mobile-first approach:

  1. Design your site/application to work on smaller, narrow screens.
  2. Use media queries to progressively enhance your layout as the screen size increases.
  3. Take a simple, pragmatic approach. If you’re removing a feature because it doesn’t fit on a mobile screen, consider whether it’s necessary to offer it on the desktop.

The top mobile browsing applications for the month were:

Mobile Browser October November change relative
Chrome 40.64% 43.22% +2.58% +6.30%
iPhone 16.69% 17.43% +0.74% +4.40%
UC Browser 17.90% 16.73% -1.17% -6.50%
Opera Mini/Mobile 8.64% 8.38% -0.26% -3.00%
Samsung Internet 6.52% 6.39% -0.13% -2.00%
Android 5.83% 5.28% -0.55% -9.40%
IEMobile 1.13% 1.02% -0.11% -9.70%
Others 2.65% 1.55% -1.10% -41.50%

Chrome continues its meteoric rise at the expense of all others (especially Android Mobile, which it supersedes). While I don’t use Chrome as my default desktop browser, I have no hesitation in recommending it on mobile. I’m yet to find an alternative which offers a better experience.

The iPhone edition of Safari and UC Browser continue to dance round each other. Following a month at the coveted #2 spot, UC Browser has been knocked back once again. However, the dominance of mobile usage will encourage people to look for better smartphone applications. Take note, Apple: your lacklustre attitude to Safari and the web could hit profitability sooner than you think.

The biggest faller was the “others” group. More than 40% of those users migrated to a mainstream browser. Perhaps it’s a statistical blip, or my underdog browser article from last month didn’t help their cause?!

See you next month for a round-up of the major browser events of 2016.

Browser Trends December 2016: Mobile Overtakes Desktop

In November, we looked at the underdog browsers adopted by one in thirty web users. The StatCounter browser statistics for December 2016 records a more exciting and momentous event in the web’s history …

Mobile overtakes desktop, November 2016

Worldwide Desktop & Tablet Browser Statistics, October to November 2016

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

Browser October November change relative
Chrome 59.39% 59.22% -0.17% -0.30%
Firefox 13.28% 13.49% +0.21% +1.60%
IE11 6.95% 6.98% +0.03% +0.40%
oldIE 1.94% 1.81% -0.13% -6.70%
Edge 2.82% 2.93% +0.11% +3.90%
Safari 4.79% 4.69% -0.10% -2.10%
iPad Safari 5.42% 5.68% +0.26% +4.80%
Opera 1.91% 1.82% -0.09% -4.70%
Others 3.50% 3.38% -0.12% -3.40%

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

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

Browser November 2015 November 2016 change relative
Chrome 54.27% 59.22% +4.95% +9.10%
Firefox 14.70% 13.49% -1.21% -8.20%
IE11 10.40% 6.98% -3.42% -32.90%
oldIE 5.05% 1.81% -3.24% -64.20%
Edge 1.21% 2.93% +1.72% +142.10%
Safari 9.34% 10.37% +1.03% +11.00%
Opera 1.77% 1.82% +0.05% +2.80%
Others 3.26% 3.38% +0.12% +3.70%

(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. 6.7% of oldIE users migrated elsewhere last month. There are several caveats so I recommend you read How Browser Market Share is Calculated and StatCounter vs NetMarketShare.)

Chrome experienced an uncharacteristic fall. I’m secretly pleased; I predicted Google’s browser wouldn’t reach 60% before the end of 2016! That said, -0.17% is hardly a major setback, and my predictions are notoriously awful. No doubt everyone will switch to Chrome during the next month just to prove me wrong!

A fall for Chrome generally means good news for other applications. Firefox, Edge and even IE11 all rose but the changes are hardly dramatic. Let’s move on; there’s far more interesting news on mobile …

Worldwide Mobile Browser Statistics, November 2016

Mobile browser use increased by an impressive 1.78% during November. It smashed through the parity barrier and now accounts for 50.62% of all web activity. Mobile exceeds desktop usage for the first time since the web began.

(Some sites were reporting this event last month and mobile usage did overtake desktop on certain days. However, the overall percentage for October 2016’s mobile use remained below 50%.)

We’ve been waiting some time. The “mobiles-will-overtake-desktop” prediction was raised at least a decade ago, but took longer than most expected. Possible reasons include:

  • It is difficult to do real work on a mobile device. That said, devices have grown exponentially in Asia and Africa in places where the PC revolution never occurred. Millions of people now work and trade on smartphones in ways which are troublesome in the western world. We still struggle with micro-payments and simple transactions regardless of age or financial status.
  • Network bandwidth is slow, unreliable and costly in the majority of countries. There are only so many hours you can surf and a mobile connection will impede progress. There are exciting possibilities for future technologies, but fast, always-on and inexpensive networks remain a dream.
  • The web has evolved from a predominantly desktop-based starting point. The situation has improved with Responsive Web Design and Progressive Web Apps, but many legacy sites are inoperable or impractical on a mobile device.

Does the mobile explosion change our development lives? Probably not if you’ve been reading SitePoint and watching industry trends: you’re already mobile aware. Fortunately, it will be a wake-up call for any client or boss who doubted the growth of the mobile platform or didn’t think it would affect their business. Be prepared for several “how can we make our digital experience better on a smartphone” conversations very soon.

From a technical perspective, I recommend a mobile-first approach:

  1. Design your site/application to work on smaller, narrow screens.
  2. Use media queries to progressively enhance your layout as the screen size increases.
  3. Take a simple, pragmatic approach. If you’re removing a feature because it doesn’t fit on a mobile screen, consider whether it’s necessary to offer it on the desktop.

The top mobile browsing applications for the month were:

Mobile Browser October November change relative
Chrome 40.64% 43.22% +2.58% +6.30%
iPhone 16.69% 17.43% +0.74% +4.40%
UC Browser 17.90% 16.73% -1.17% -6.50%
Opera Mini/Mobile 8.64% 8.38% -0.26% -3.00%
Samsung Internet 6.52% 6.39% -0.13% -2.00%
Android 5.83% 5.28% -0.55% -9.40%
IEMobile 1.13% 1.02% -0.11% -9.70%
Others 2.65% 1.55% -1.10% -41.50%

Chrome continues its meteoric rise at the expense of all others (especially Android Mobile, which it supersedes). While I don’t use Chrome as my default desktop browser, I have no hesitation in recommending it on mobile. I’m yet to find an alternative which offers a better experience.

The iPhone edition of Safari and UC Browser continue to dance round each other. Following a month at the coveted #2 spot, UC Browser has been knocked back once again. However, the dominance of mobile usage will encourage people to look for better smartphone applications. Take note, Apple: your lacklustre attitude to Safari and the web could hit profitability sooner than you think.

The biggest faller was the “others” group. More than 40% of those users migrated to a mainstream browser. Perhaps it’s a statistical blip, or my underdog browser article from last month didn’t help their cause?!

See you next month for a round-up of the major browser events of 2016.