Web browser war: The early 2013 report

On desktops, it's a three-way fight with Internet Explorer or Chrome in the lead, depending on whose numbers you believe; but on mobile devices, it's either Safari or the native Android browser in first place.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The latest NetMarketShare browser numbers are in for March 2013. They reveal a three-way battle for the hearts and minds of PC web browser users, but on tablets and smartphones, Safari is leading by a wide margin. StatCounter, however, has Chrome and the Android native browser leading respectively.

Why the differences? The two most popular web browser counters use different methodologies.

NetMarketShare gathers its data from approximately 40,000 websites that use Net Applications (its parent company), HitsLink analytics service, and SharePost bookmarking service. They track 160 million visits a month, but only count visitors to a particular site once per day. That data is then massaged by Net Applications depending on the traffic it believes comes from a particular country and the number of internet users per country, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). So for example, as the company explains, "If our global data shows that Brazil represents 2 percent of our traffic, and the CIA table shows Brazil to represent 4 percent of global internet traffic, we will count each unique visitor from Brazil twice."

StatCounter also collects data from its customers, but it uses a much larger sample. StatCounter tracks over 3 million webs sites that use its StatCounter traffic analysis service. The company claims to follow over 15 billion page views per month. In addition, StatCounter doesn't massage its data. Instead, it bases its numbers entirely on raw page hits.

Here's how it works. Say ZDNet tracks web browsers using both Net Application and StatCounter's technologies. If you visited ZDNet 20-times in a day from your office in Rio de Janeiro, NetMarketShare would register your web browser visiting the site twice. StatCounter, on the other hand, would count it as 20 separate hits. This may not seem like it would make much difference, but as their respective numbers shows, it does.

So with no further adieu, here are the latest web browser statistics:

NetMarketShare has IE in the lead on PC web browsers by a comfortable margin.
Image: NetMarketShare

By NetMarketShare's PC count, Internet Explorer (IE) squeezed out a tiny 0.01 percent gain, from 55.82 percent to 55.83 percent. In second place, Firefox moved up by 0.09 percent, from 20.12-percent to 20.21-percent. Third-place Chrome gained the most with a modest jump of 0.18 points from 16.27 percent to 16.45 percent.

All this growth came at the expense of the trailing pair of web browsers: Safari, which dropped 0.11 percent to 5.31 percent, and Opera, which fell 0.08 percentage points to 0.46 percent.

StatCounter, however, has Chrome leading both IE and Firefox on PC Web browsers.
Image: StatCounter

Of course, StatCounter sees March's data in an entirely different light. By their numbers, Chrome led in March with 38.07 percent, followed by IE with 29.3 percent, and then Firefox with 20.8 percent. Bringing up the rear, Safari came in with 8.5 percent, and Opera limped in last with 1.17 percent.

NetMarketShare sees Safari leading the way on smartphone and tablet browsers.
Image: NetMarkerShare

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, the two also disagree. By NetMarketShare's reckoning, Safari jumped up to 61.79 percent from 55.41 percent in February. The native Android browser came in second place with 21.86 percent share, and Opera Mini stayed in third place with 8.4 percent. The two most popular web browsers on the desktop? Chrome and IE? They barely register, with Chrome coming in fourth at 2.43 percent and IE with 1.99 percent.

StatCounter, however, shows the native Android Web browser leading the way on mobile Web browsers.
Image: StatCounter

StatCounter sees a vastly different mobile web browsing world. From StatCounter's viewpoint, Android's in first with 30.78 percent. It's followed by Safari on the iPhone at 24.44 percent. Even if you add in Safari on the iPod touch, Apple's mobile web-browsing offering still comes in at second place with 27.05 percent.

Opera takes third with 15.54 percent. It's followed by the UC Browser, a multi-platform mobile browser, with 8.27 percent, and fifth place went to Nokia with 6.96 percent. StatCounter does agree with NetMarketShare on one point: Neither Chrome nor IE matter in the mobile space.

So which numbers do you believe? I can argue for either set, but personally, I find that StatCounter agrees more with the numbers I see from my own websites using Google Analytics.

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