Research: Apple owns mobile web, Google rules mobile search

  • Chicago (IL) - We have known iPhone accounts for the leading mobile web users, but now the first mobile web use survey ever has revealed just how much the iPhone leads Windows Mobile when it comes to surfing on the go. The numbers also show that Android should definitely be taken seriously -- especially when it overtakes Symbian's web use stats sometime later this month. And unlike Microsoft (who failed to extend its desktop dominance into the mobile market), Google has taken its lead as the desktop search engine nicely over into the mobile market, which now leads both -- and the latter by an obscenely large margin.

    While Net Applications' February OS web usage share numbers score a small victory for Microsoft's Windows -- which climbed one-fifth of a point to record 88.42% up from 88.20% in January, and while OS X hit 9.61% after surrendering 0.28 percentage points over January -- the mobile landscape paints quite a different picture for Microsoft's other Windows operating system, Windows Mobile. According to the survey of 40,000 monitored sites in the U.S., the iPhone OS commands two thirds of all mobile web surfing, and a whopping nine times more than all of Windows Mobile-powered handsets combined.

    iPhone:  World's most used mobile web surfing device

    The February numbers put iPhone OS on the #1 slot with 66.61% of all mobile web use, followed by Java ME and Windows Mobile cellphones with 9.06% and 6.91% respectively. These numbers show that iPhone accounts for over nine times that of Windows Mobile. Apple's wide lead with iPhone is also echoed in AdMob's January Mobile Metric (PDF document) which suggested that the iPhone took over half of all domestic smartphone traffic and a whopping one-third of global smartphone traffic on the web. However, we should note that AdMob's numbers were likely skewed in Apple's favor thanks to a surge of iPhone web usage in pre-holiday season when the iPhone beat Windows Mobile and RIM combined, as well as post-holiday season.

    Android:  New kid on the block

    The Net Applications survey also shows that Google's Android has managed to equal Symbian's web usage share (both at 6.15% right now), a remarkable achievement given that Android is found in but one handset, T-Mobile's G1, which, in turn, has been on the market for barely four months. The fact that Android matched in four months the same web usage share that took Symbian-powered cellphones years to achieve is nothing but astounding and clearly shows who the next power house might be. "Although the iPhone has a commanding lead in mobile browsing share, Android and BlackBerry are rapidly gaining market share," said Net Applications, noting that "does not mean that iPhone web browsing is shrinking, because the overall market is growing rapidly."

    BlackBerry OS:  Under the radar

    RIM's BlackBerry platform dominates in email, but does not fare so well in mobile web usage where it accounts for just 2.24%. The figure puts the BlackBerry OS behind all other rivals, including the once-strong Palm OS that still managed to emerge ahead of RIM with 2.37%. The commanding iPhone lead in mobile web surfing shouldn't come as a surprise since iPhone users are known to surf a lot thanks to a full, feature-rich version of Safari which comes standard on the iPhone, and one which pairs nicely with its multi-touch controls and simplistic user interface -- something rivals have not been able to match so far.

    Google:  Rules mobile web search by an obscenely large margin

    When it comes to web search, Google leads by an impressive margin, even greater than their share on desktops. In February, Google handled 97.5% of all searches conducted via mobile devices. Yahoo handled just 2.03% of all mobile searches, followed by Ask (0.21%) and MSN, Altavista and AOL, each with miniscule numbers. Net Applications hinted that Google's lead may erode in the coming months due to Microsoft's deal with Verizon, one that will see its Live Search pre-installed on all Verizon devices as the default search engine.

    Mobile web as a whole:  Still a niche market

    Mobile web browsing as a whole still accounts for just a fraction of all web browsing, though it is growing rapidly. According to Net Applications, mobile web browsing currently represents only 0.72% of all web browsing, up from 0.69% in January. This means that Apple's 66.61% lead in the mobile web use translates into 0.48% of all web browsing, an overall small figure though still 8x greater than web browsing on consoles, which accounts for 0.06%, and is the same as the month-ago period.

    You should also be warned to take Net Applications' mobile web figures with a grain of salt since these figures have been derived from aggregate data collected on just 40,000 monitored sites in the U.S., those which reportedly act as a representative sample of the overall market. In addition, data trends seem to wiggle and jiggle slightly from month to month, showing that the mobile web market is still in its infancy and that nothing should be taken for granted yet. A full run-down on the methodology used to derive figures is available here.

    Microsoft fights Apple in the mobile arena

    Apple's iPhone OS and Microsoft's Windows Mobile are slowly but surely emerging as the two fiercest rivals in the mobile arena, in the same way Windows and OS X compete today for desktop mindshare. iPhone's release has had a profound effect on the entire mobile market, having provoked harsh comments from the software giant who didn't see Apple coming into the game. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has publicly laughed off Apple's entrance into the mobile market in July of 2007. In an interview with CNBC. On several later occasions, Ballmer consistently tried to downplay the importance of the iPhone.

    According to CNET, when Ballmer spoke to analysts during the company's update last week in New York, he once again rebuffed the iPhone as just a buzz. "The truth of the matter is all the consumer market mojo is with Apple and to a lesser extent BlackBerry," Ballmer said. "And yet, the real market momentum with operators and the real market momentum with device manufacturers seems to primarily be with Windows Mobile and Android." Ballmer did acknowledge that Mac remains Microsoft's main rival in the desktop arena.

    Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quick to take a jab at Apple when iPhone first hit the market in July, 2007. Speaking to CNBC, Ballmer completely laughed off Apple's entrance into the mobile arena, spelling doom for the iPhone because of its high price point. I wonder if these numbers will alter Ballmer's position?

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