Mobile browsing reaches all-time high

Web publishing is getting more complicated as ever more people use tablets and phones. Also: Chrome rises and IE falls.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

If you haven't whipped your Web site into shape for easy viewing on small-screen devices, you'd better get cracking.

Mobile browsing reached its highest levels so far, 7.7 percent of total browser usage, in December.
Mobile browsing reached its highest levels so far, 7.7 percent of total browser usage, in December. Net Applications

That's because the use of mobile devices reached an all-time high in December, accounting for 7.7 percent of browser usage according to Net Applications' measurements of daily visits to its network of 40,000 Web sites. That may still be a small fraction of total Web traffic, but it's a large and growing population in absolute numbers.

Tablet browsing in many ways is similar to desktop browsing; screen resolution on the dominant iPad and iPad 2 aren't that far off a laptop. But touch interfaces are different from mouse interfaces, especially when it comes to tapping buttons with precision. And smaller tablets are awkwardly in between the iPad and mobile-phone screens. It's for these reasons that there's a lot of work in retooling CSS and other Web technologies to make Web sites adjust to different screen sizes, but for now it's a tough challenge for Web programmers.

Among mobile browsers, Apple's Safari remained the top dog with 53.3 percent of usage, a drop from 55.0 percent in November. Opera rose to 21.7 percent and Google's Android browser dipped to 15.9 percent in December, making their reversed positions in October look more like an anomaly than the new order.

Apple's Safari leads mobile browser usage.
Apple's Safari leads mobile browser usage. Net Applications

In the desktop browser market, months-long trends continued unabated. The top dog, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, fell from 52.6 percent to 51.9 percent. Mozilla's Firefox also fell, 22.1 percent to 21.8 percent, while Google's Chrome rose from 18.2 percent to 19.1 percent.

StatCounter, which measures page views rather than unique users, shows similar trends, but more advanced. In its measurements, Chrome surpassed Firefox a month ago, and IE has dropped to near 38 percent.

For desktop browsers, IE and Firefox dropped while Chrome rose in December.
For desktop browsers, IE and Firefox dropped while Chrome rose in December. Net Applications

Ranked by specific versions of browsers, IE6 is the fifth-most used, according to Net Applications, with a various versions combined to account for 7.7 percent of usage in December. That's a problem for Web developers who want to add features the old browser just can't handle.

According to Microsoft's IE6 Countdown site, which tries to encourage people to drop the decade-old browser, China remains an IE6 stronghold. There, more than a quarter of usage comes from IE6. In the United States, it's less than 1 percent.