iPhone Claims Nearly Two-Thirds Of Mobile Browser Share - InformationWeek

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Commentary
3/3/2009
02:30 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary
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iPhone Claims Nearly Two-Thirds Of Mobile Browser Share

According to research by Net Applications, the iPhone is used 66% of the time by people browsing the Web with their phone. Second place was JavaME at 9% share.

According to research by Net Applications, the iPhone is used 66% of the time by people browsing the Web with their phone. Second place was JavaME at 9% share.In a near dead-heat for third place was Windows Mobile at 7% followed by Symbian and Android, both at 6%. Palm, BlackBerry, and BREW brought up the rear, all below 3%. Note that the chart I linked to is live, so numbers will move depending on when you look at it. By themselves, these numbers tell you nothing of the device's actual market share, but only what percentage of users were browsing the Web with a particular platform. I didn't see how the data was collected in this report, but typically it is collecting Web server data where the server sniffs the user agent string of the browser. It is true that users can hack the user agent string and thus skew the results, but I think it is safe to assume that users that do that are in the distinct minority. In fact, those that do usually change it to appear as a desktop browser and would be excluded from these results.

I did some quick math and calculated that the iPhone sold 17.4 million devices since inception through December 2008 and 4 million in 2007, leaving us with 13.4 million for 2008 alone. Windows Mobile sold 20 million handsets in 2008. How could a device like the iPhone, which sold 33% fewer units, be garnering 67% of mobile Web browser's eyes? It is real simple. Browsing on the iPhone is a pleasure. I cringe when I use the browser on my Windows Mobile handset. There are a few mobile-friendly sites that work well with it, such as Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of Google sites that I visit quite often. However, if I click on a link to a Web site that doesn't have small screens in mind, it's like trying to work a jigsaw puzzle when you are only allowed to ever see four pieces at any one time. Most users don't bother, as the market research shows. I think it is also telling that Android is used almost as much as Windows Mobile. I've seen figures anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million units sold in 2008 by T-Mobile, the only one selling an Android phone at the time. Whatever the number is, it is a rounding error compared with Windows Mobile, yet it has equal share when it comes to Web browsing. Again, the browser on the G1 is a pleasure to use, so it gets used. Microsoft is supposed to rectify this with Windows Mobile 6.5, which will include the bits from Internet Explorer 6 from the desktop, heavily modified, of course, as its browser. Manufacturers also can include Adobe Flash, which would give Windows Mobile a leg up on its iPhone/Android competition. That won't be until Q4 of 2009, though, and then only for new phones, or a precious few coming out in the near future that will be upgradable. How did Microsoft, the company that won the browser war on the desktop, find itself is such a poor position in the mobile handset space? Believe it or not, way back in the late 1990s, some Windows CE devices, ancestors to the Pocket PC and Windows Mobile family, came with a modified version of Internet Explorer 4 on them. Yes, it was slow, but you could browse a number of sites. Instead of optimizing that code, they chose to start from scratch with a mobile browser that would try and compress and rearrange data on the screen. That might have been an acceptable course of action for 2000, when other mobile platforms really had no browser at all. It shouldn't have taken Microsoft a decade to adjust that course, though. Better late than never. We'll have to wait until WM 6.5 has been out for a few months to see if Microsoft has closed the gap any on mobile browser share.

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