StatCounter's mobile Web browser numbers show Android's native browser taking first place from Opera.
On the PC, Internet Explorer (IE), while declining for years, is still the top Web browser. On mobile devices, though, IE has never mattered, and Opera has long been the top dog. But, that's no longer the case. According to StatCounter, Android's built-in Web browser is now number one.
Android's browser appears to have taken first place for the same reason that IE still dominates PCs-it's what built into the most popular systems. True, the iPhone is the world's single most popular smartphone, but taken all together Google's Android devices accounted for over 50 percent of all smartphone sales, up by 30 percent only a year ago.
True, some vendors, such as Samsung, have long pre-loaded Opera on its feature phones. But, on the higher-end smartphones, Opera has had to reply on individual users downloading it. For years, this was enough, but no longer.
In February 2012, StatCounter reports that Android has 22.67% of the market, Opera comes in second with 21.7%, and the iPhone native browser, which has also been growing in popularity takes third with 21.06%. Nokia's native Symbian browser comes in a distant fourth with 11.24%.
However, I suspect that Opera may yet become the king of the hill in mobile Web browsers. That's because Google is bringing the Chrome Web browser to Android. True, it's only available on Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), but as more smartphone and tablets appear running ICS, Chrome will start to grow at the Android native browser's expenses. This should lead to a point where these two browsers will cut into each other's market-share leaving Opera once more on top.
Alas, for Opera, this won't last. Eventually I expect Chrome, which isn't even a player now on StatCounter's mobile Web survey, to take the number one spot. It's fast, it's good, and it will be built-in to tens of millions of smartphones. Opera has the first two, but without the third eventually it will decline.
Don't feel too sorry for Opera though. As StatCounter points out, while Opera's relative share of the mobile pie may be shrinking, the "Global internet usage through mobile devices, not including tablets, has almost doubled to 8.5% in January 2012 from 4.3% last year." In other words, there will still be more Opera users than ever in the coming mobile computer world.