Chrome Streaks Past Safari in Market Share

Google’s Chrome may be a relatively new entrant in the browser arena, but already it’s edged past Apple’s long-standing Safari to assume the third-place spot.

That’s according to market researcher Net Applications, which recently released year-end data indicating that Chrome now accounts for 4.63 percent of the browser market.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still holds the top position, with 62.69 percent of the market, while Mozilla’s Firefox weighs in at No. 2, with a 24.61 percent market share. Safari, now in fourth place, accounts for 4.46 percent.

The remainder of the browser market goes to Opera, with 2.4 percent; Opera Mini, with 0.53 percent; and an “other” category — which includes Netscape and Konqueror — occupying a total of 0.63 percent, Net Applications reported.

A Fluid Market

Released about a year ago, Google’s Chrome is the latest major player to arrive on the browser scene. The fact that it has caught up so quickly with much longer-standing players is a testament to the newly increased fluidity of the browser market, Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

“Not to take anything away from Chrome, but I think its success reflects two things,” King explained.

First, of course, “is that it’s a terrific technology that is offering a level of performance that a lot of users find very attractive,” he noted. Then, too, however, “it points to how fluid the market for browsers has become.”

There are many more viable choices in the browser arena than there used to be, King pointed out, and “users feel empowered to try them.”

‘Growth for Open Source Alternatives’

Indeed, “the browser market continues to be much more flexible and fluid than it was in the previous decade,” agreed Jay Lyman, analyst for enterprise software with the 451 Group.

Chrome’s success “also continues the trend of continued, significant growth for open source alternatives — Firefox and now Chrome — amid relatively flat growth for Safari and others,” Lyman told LinuxInsider.

As more people access the Web from an increasing number of different devices, “we are likely to see less dominance from Explorer or any other browser and a greater spread among the different options, which continue to grow,” Lyman added. “The fact that there is traction for the open source options may fuel more of them, which will also serve to spread browser use.”

The news is particularly interesting given the popularity of devices such as Apple’s iPhone, which one might have expected to deliver a larger boost to Safari, he pointed out.

‘What’s Going On Over at Apple?’

“Of the alternative browsers out there, Safari’s a technology that has gotten some great reviews, but Apple hasn’t been able to or hasn’t been terribly interested in preaching the gospel of Safari beyond its base of Mac users,” King asserted. “It’s a terrific technology, and I think it has some very interesting features and benefits, but I’m not quite sure why Apple hasn’t been able to get Safari out to the crowds.”

It’s clearly no longer the case that the market is overwhelmingly dominated by Explorer, he noted — “Google and Firefox have proven that.”

So, “‘What’s going on over at Apple?’ is a question worth asking,” King said. “If they’re not interested in making Safari an option beyond the Mac user base, that’s fine, but it seems like a waste.”

‘Gradual Decline in IE’

As Windows users have migrated to Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8 has received a corresponding boost, King noted.

Nevertheless, “what I think we’ll see in the long term is that Firefox, Chrome and Safari will all grow in share at IE’s expense,” Jeff Gamet, managing editor of The Mac Observer, told LinuxInsider.

Not only that, but “I think what we’ll end up seeing is that Chrome will grow faster than Safari simply because so many people out there are apparently looking for alternatives to IE, and they’re excited to see what Google has to offer,” Gamet predicted.

IE8 may be enjoying a ride on Windows 7’s launch, but “we’re still seeing a gradual decline in IE as a whole,” he noted. Very likely, users who are still relying on Vista or XP are “abandoning IE faster than IE8 is making up the difference,” he said.

‘It’s Probably Not Going to Hurt Them’

Looking ahead, “Apple will continue to invest in Safari,” and the browser will remain a significant player on platforms such as the iPhone and iPod touch, Gamet predicted.

Whether its slip in market-share ranking will ultimately matter isn’t clear, he added.

“I’m sure Apple would love to have a higher market share than they do,” Gamet concluded, “but I think in the longer run, it’s probably not going to hurt them dramatically to be in that No. 4 spot.”

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