Milestones are funny things: They are important signifiers of what a category or a technology has accomplished, but they don’t necessarily show an explosion of recent progress.
Numbers from StatCounter about the use of mobile browsers show both. The milestone is that for the first time, 20 percent of browsing activity has taken place on mobile devices. The company is not suggesting an uptick of a point or two from last year, either: Twelve months ago, mobile browsers accounted for 13 percent of the total. That, according to the company, is a 53 percent annual increase.
In the historical context picture, Computerworld points to how far this method of perusing the Web has come:
In September 2009, when Computerworld began tracking mobile browser usage—seven months before Apple started selling its first iPad—desktop controlled 98.9% of the usage total, according to StatCounter.
The story includes a nice chart that tracks the past two years of growth. In December, 2011, mobile Web browsing was at about 8 percent.
As mobile browsing grows, security becomes an ever-bigger concern. A commentary written by ThreatMetrix CTO Andreas Baumhof at The Jacksonville Business Journal on mobile security makes an important point about mobile browser security.
Baumhof pointed out that mobile browsers generally lack “the same scope and accuracy of information as their desktop counterparts.” His example is that some mobile browsers only reveal where they were developed, not where the user is. This, he points out, is a great way for malefactors to hide themselves. The overall point is that some of the security control common on desktops is absent when the browsers are mobilized.
Browser companies—undoubtedly happy that they have hit the 20 percent mark—are aiming at taking over the other 80 percent. One approach, according to CNET, is being undertaken by Mozilla: It is pushing hardware manufacturers to preinstall the Android version of its mobile browser. Stephen Shankland lauds the approach, but notes that for it really to succeed it will need to be included in higher-profile tablets than Kobo Arc and GSmart Simba SX1, the two that are set to carry it. He notes that Google Chrome has between 100 million and 500 million installations, about 10 times the number claimed by Mozilla.
The mobile world, to some extent, is app versus browser. Rick Robinson at Midsize Insider suggests that the fate of mobile browsers is important:
The specific browser that mobile users employ to go online matters less than the availability of browser-based mobile access. Browsers place all websites — including the Web presence of midsize firms — on an equal footing. In contrast, today’s app-centric mobile environment makes consumers a quasi-captive audience of app providers and app stores. They are not encouraged to explore. Browsers, on the other hand, invite their users to explore the full Web.
The point is that simple: Apps are inherently closed systems and browsers take an open approach. That alone seems like a reason to be happy that the mobile browser category is growing.