iOS, Safari, and the Mobile Browser War

by Ian Rosenwach on 1.2.2018

In the U.S., Chrome has 39% market share, behind Apple Inc.’s Safari browser, which has 52%. UC Browser has less than 1% market share in the U.S. – WSJ (subscription required)

The article from the WSJ is about how Google Chrome lags UC Browser (owned by Alibaba) in Asian markets but wow — that stat speaks to the competitive advantage of Apple having Safari be the default browser on iOS. I don’t see any other way they can be that far ahead of Chrome in US market share.

Looking backwards, this is what the antitrust case against Microsoft was about. Long story short (see the Wikipedia link for more) the two parties eventually settled. But Netscape and the Justice Department took issue with Microsoft’s business practices around bundling Explorer with Windows and said it constituted monopolistic behavior.

A Data Gatekeeper

Controlling the mobile browser is of great strategic importance to both Google and Apple.

First, that owner plays a role in being the gatekeeper for mobile ad tech. Safari’s recent moves towards a more privacy-friendly approach to web tracking doesn’t bode well for ad tech companies that rely on the mobile browser to deliver targeted ads.

Second is around data policies and how that data is used to target ads. As an advertising company, Google has more of a vested interest in having more ad-friendly policies for Chrome. Unlike Google, Apple’s goal with the browser is to create the best user experience.

Portals Over Search?

One reason for UC Browser’s success is its tiny app size and portal-like approach to showing news, scores from sports like cricket and soccer and other content. – same WSJ article linked above

History reversing itself? Google helped transition users to a search interface on the web browser, and away from portals like Yahoo! But who’s to say that the mobile browser is conducive to the same user interface? In certain environments less screen space could result in a need for specific, targeted, curation.

Using the mobile browser also means less worries about how much space mobile apps are taking up on the device. This makes a big difference in Asia.

I’m not sure if this will become an issue in 2018 or ever, but it’s interesting to look at Apple and Safari in iOS today and draw parallels to the browser wars of the 90’s, when Microsoft bundled Explorer in Windows.  I don’t think the browser is as important as it used to be, but it’s still a key strategic component for consumer tech platforms.

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