Google's unbranded Android browser looks like it may have reached a high-water mark as Chrome makes its presence known. But Safari remains king of mobile browsing.
The Android version of Chrome has begun carving a niche for itself in the mobile browsing market.
In May, usage of the mobile version of Google's browser on smartphones and tablets accounted for an all-time high of 3.2 percent, according to Net Applications' usage statistics. That figure may not sound like a lot, but the browser only crossed the 1 percent threshold in November 2012, and it's now surpassed Microsoft's IE at 2 percent of mobile browser usage.
At the same time, Google's unbranded Android browser, which predates Chrome, appears to be waning. Its usage dropped from 22.9 percent in April to 20.7 percent in May, Net Applications said.
Apple's Safari continues to dominate mobile browsing, whose growth is outpacing the more mature and stable situation with personal-computer browsing. Even though Apple faces a serious competitive threat from Android phones, Safari still cleaned up with 60 percent of mobile browsing activity in May, Net Applications said.
Chrome is only available on devices running on Android 4.0 or later, which means the large number of phones running version 2.3 of Google's mobile OS can't use it. However, Firefox and Opera both work on the earlier versions of Android, and indeed now Opera now is based on the same browser engine as Chrome, offering Chrome fans with older phones something of a lifeline.
Firefox, which isn't a default browser on any mobile OS shipping today, has very small usage on mobile devices -- less than 0.1 percent, according to Net Applications. To try to get a mobile foothold, though, Mozilla has launched Firefox OS, a browser-based operating system due to ship on lower-end phones this year in developing countries such as Brazil.
Although Opera is pushing its overhauled browser for Android devices, its top browser actually is Opera Mini, a much older product that runs on many more phones. Its share of mobile browser usage increased from 9.9 percent in april to 10.5 percent in May, but its fortunes have waned in recent years with the arrival of iOS and Android.
Mobile browsers account for a small but growing fraction of overall browser usage. Mobile browsers accounted for 11.2 percent of browser usage compared to 88.3 percent in May, Net Applications said. That's short of the all-time high in January of 13.2 percent.
Net Applications measures daily usage, meaning that a single person visiting the same site many times per day counts as much as a different person visiting only once. It also attempts to correct for differences between traffic its own network of Web sites and actual Web traffic. And it screens out page views that result from Chrome's loading Web pages before they're actually requested, a performance-boosting feature called prerendering.
By those measurements, Microsoft's Internet Explorer remained king of the PC browser market in May, with 56 percent of usage. Next is Firefox, at 20.6 percent, then Chrome with 15.7 percent. Bringing up the rear are Safari with 5.5 percent and Opera with 1.8 percent.
Net Applications' trends show Firefox holding its own for the last year and a half, Microsoft clawing back a bit of usage after years of declines, and Chrome's growth halted.
Net Applications said IE8 is the most-used version, at 23 percent. IE9 is at 15.4 percent, and IE10, which ships with Windows 8, is at 9.3 percent.
Counting Web usage isn't a simple matter, though, and different methods can mean different winners and losers.
StatCounter, a usage-tracking site with a different methodology, shows very different results. It tracks every page view and doesn't attempt to adjust its data for global traffic patterns, but it has begun screening out Chrome's page prerendering.
StatCounter's statistics show Chrome as No. 1 and rising in global usage even as IE and Firefox decline.
Google said in May that 750 million people use Chrome each month, statistics that include mobile, PC, and Chrome OS devices.