It wasn’t all that long ago that I declared ‘The Golden Age Of Browsers‘ because Mac, iPhone, and iPad users had so many good browsers from which to choose.
The same could be said of those on Windows or using Android devices. There are plenty around, most are fast and render website webpages about the same, some have different feature sets, but few would be considered crummy browsers. But now the browser wars are over. Again. Guess who won?
Google Watches You
Few of the dozens of browsers currently available for Apple’s customers are going away. Most are based upon Google’s Chrome, Firefox’s Mozilla, or Apple’s Safari; and the vast majority of each are free, so who cares who won?
Google won. Chrome is the most used browser among Android’s 1.7-billion or so in-the-wild devices. Chrome is also the most used browser among the 1.3-billion or Windows sufferers. That leaves Apple’s 1-billion or so customers using the Safari browser on Mac, iPhone, and iPad, and that is where the battles rage, but the war result remains unchanged. Google won. Apple remains but somewhat isolated thanks to, well, Apple’s curated walled garden ecosystem.
Apple’s Safari is tops on macOS and iOS, with Google’s Chrome in a strong second place finish. Every other browser falls to barely double digits and most down to a single digit near the bottom of all digits. That includes Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, and various and sundry other browsers.
The big losers in the browser wars are Microsoft and whatever is left of Internet Explorer and its recent spawn, Edge, and Mozilla’s Firefox. Even Mozilla’s executives think Firefox has fallen behind Chrome, Safari, and Edge.
Mozilla’s Mark Mayo:
In many ways, we went through a time that you don’t get to survive. Somehow we’re not dead… and it feels like we’re picking up speed and figuring out what to do.
Isn’t that the equivalent of too little, too late?
For several years, we have not been spending the effort we would normally spend on the flagship product. Firefox didn’t get better along with the competition.
So, now, Firefox will get better than the competition? Or, just match the competition? After all, it’s not as if Chrome, Safari, and Edge are standing still. They’re moving targets with improving security, more features, and better functions.
Everyone else builds a browser for defensive reasons. We build one because we love browsers.
If Mozilla loves browsers so much– and the vast majority of its annual revenue comes from browser search engine results (the number of Firefox users remains substantial)– why did it fall behind every other major browser on the planet?
Somehow or another, right at the worst point possible– mobile browsing was taking off– Mozilla went into a multi-year funk, lost time and money and mindshare on a stupid smartphone OS project, and simply fell behind the industry leaders, Chrome and Safari (the two most used browsers).
What does Mozilla need to do to get back in the game? First, it has to catch up to the moving targets, and that means figuring out the basic table stakes, and then revamping the company’s browser efforts to skate to where the puck will be.
That’s a tall order because Chrome, Safari, and to a certain extent, Edge, are moving forward at a fast clip; Google because it wants to dominate platforms and users, Apple because it cannot cede any more ground to Google, and it owns its own platform and ecosystem anyway, and perhaps Microsoft because it’s been embarrassed enough already.
Second, the one area of weakness for Google’s Chrome is not the user experience, it’s user privacy, security, and online tracking. Google watches you. Google tracks you. If Firefox can make a secure browser that is fast and does not allow tracking or leave tracks for Google and advertisers to follow, it will find perhaps a prosperous niche, but remember, Mozilla gets revenue from Google. Conundrum much?
Like Walt Mossberg, I think browser competition is a good thing; but for now, the war is over, Chrome won, Safari prospers, but every other browser is on the list of endangered species, and Google is on the verge of eclipsing all comers with an online spying system of search results, app searches, advertising trackers, and online tracking that makes the Hal 9000 system look quaint.