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What's the most popular web browser in 2021?

Take a wild guess.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I literally wrote the first popular article about the web. Since then I've been keeping a close eye on web browsers, as our only choice was the WEB shell program. We've come a long way, but web browsers are still the primary way we connect with the endless fields of data, stories, and video that makes up the modern web. And, today, Google's Chrome is the way most of us work and play on the web.

It's been really hard to get hard data on which were really the most popular web browsers. True, many companies claimed to have good information, such as NetMarketShare and StatCounter, but their numbers are massaged. The US federal government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP), however, gives us a running count of the last 90 days of US government website visits. That doesn't tell us much about global web browser use; it's the best information we have about American web browser users today.

Say hello to the early days of web browsers

And the top web browser is, according to the DAP's 6.67 billion visits over the past 90 days (drumroll, please): Google Chrome with 48.3%. That's a smidgen down from last year when Chrome had 49.3%.  

This drop didn't come from any sudden rise of an alternative browser. Perish the thought. On the desktop, Chrome rules. But, in the last 12 months, we've seen an enormous rise of smartphones over PCs for web use. In 2019 and 2020, just over half -- 50% to 46.9% -- of the web browsing market belonged to smartphones over PCs. The remainder, 3.1%, went to tablets. In 2020 and 2021, 57.4% of web browsing sessions were on smartphones with only 40.5% on laptops and desktops. The tablet market shrunk down to 2.1%.

As for the smartphone market, there the top browser remains Safari. Macs continue to hang on with 9.5% of the PC market, but with 34.6%, iPhones dominate both the smartphone and smartphone browser markets. The only other browsers that matter on smartphones, besides Safari and Chrome, are Samsung's built-in Samsung Internet with 2.6% and the generic Android Webview. 

In the US, it's become clear iPhones are quickly gaining market share. Last year, only 29.5% of smartphones used were iPhones, with 23% using Android-based smartphones. Now, with 34.6% to Android's 24.5%, iPhones are more popular than ever.

Getting back to web browsers, Chrome is even bigger than it looks at a glance. Its open-source foundation, Chromium, is also what Microsoft Edge runs. Edge, with 5% of the user base, is now the third-place web browser. Except for Mozilla Firefox, all the other web browsers that matter, such as Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, run on top of Chromium.

Firefox is in fourth place and doing, in a word, "badly." In the last 12 months, Firefox dropped to 2.7% from last year's 3.6%. In 2015, when I first started using DAP's numbers, Firefox had an 11% market share. By 2016, Firefox had declined to 8.2%. Firefox has a slight bounce upward by 2018 to 9%. Despite its ad deals with Google, Mozilla has been laying off more employees. You really must wonder how long Firefox is going to matter at all.

At the bottom of the list, comes the long dying Internet Explorer (IE) with 2.2%. Even though Microsoft has urged users to dump IE in favor of Edge for over a year, some users are still sticking with this hopelessly out-of-date browser. The most popular version is the still supported IE 11, with 1.9%. The antique IE 7, which hasn't been supported in over four years, is still hanging around with 0.2% of the market.

In short, today's internet belongs to Chrome on the desktop and Safari on smartphones. Nothing else really matters.

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