What Chrome’s Explosive Growth Teaches Us About Browsers

There is a relatively high chance, right now, that you are reading this either from a mobile or a desktop version of Google’s Chrome browser. If not, congratulations! You’re in the minority that has not joined the hype for a variety of reasons (and I’ll get to that).

For everyone else, Chrome has seen an impressive amount of growth that continues through 2017 without showing many signs of plateauing anytime soon. Why is this happening? And what lessons does it teach us about how browsers should cater to the average user?

There is a running joke on the Internet that goes somewhere along the lines of “Internet Explorer [now Microsoft Edge] is a great browser… for downloading Chrome.” Here’s one such meme.

chromegrowth-meme

The statistics prove that this is actually much more than a joke. Google Chrome’s market share, according to a report by NetworkWorld citing data from NetMarketShare, has shot up from 25 percent in March 2015 to just under 60 percent in February 2017. In the meantime, Microsoft’s flagship browser (previously IE and now Microsoft Edge) has lost half of its userbase. Chrome’s rise was also accompanied by the slight drop in market share of Safari, Apple’s go-to browser.

chromegrowth-logos

Like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and “Edge,” Google Chrome relies on brand recognition. Everyone has been in contact with a Google product at one point or another. The reputation is that the brand had became mixed in with the browser the company developed. Firefox, despite being a great contender, failed to attract as much attention since it didn’t have such a massive reach.

Chrome didn’t just have brand recognition, though. Its developers were dedicated to making a minimalist browser with a sleek rendering engine that could outcompete IE and Edge’s performance. Where Microsoft saw little incentive to innovate, Google saw a vacuum that it could fill, devoting its resources to making a browser that could connect easily to everything under the sun and (most notably) the company’s own highly-used applications. Once it started losing market share, Microsoft started pushing more features down the pipeline and revamping the browser’s look and feel to make it more in line with modern-day demands, but it brought all of this muscle to the table a bit late in the game.

The serendipity of having some of the highest market share in other areas (Drive, Docs, Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Blogger, YouTube, Android, etc.) has given Google the possibility of pushing a browser that has “everything in one place,” making anyone with a Google account capable of unlocking everything the company had to offer by logging in from the browser.

Chrome has many things going for it, but what really made it successful boils down to a couple of concepts it focused on rigorously:

  • Usability (fluid and minimalist interface)
  • Brand recognition
  • An easy-to-use and ample extension library
  • A stable, strong development process

chromegrowth-spy

For the most part, most of the people who don’t use Chrome today are probably not ever going to use it anyway. One of the main reasons has a lot to do with perceived privacy concerns and data mining practices that Google has engaged in. Some may call this paranoid until they dig a little bit beneath the surface. In 2008 Consumer Watchdog published a video demonstrating that Chrome was recording what users type in their search bars. There are still many mysteries surrounding the browser and how it collects data, including the servers it connects to when it starts up.

Others may simply not like the interface or do not take kindly to the amount of memory it uses. Take a look at the following image.

chromegrowth-memory

The point here is that there are also several valid reasons not to like Chrome. As it stands right now, though, Google is likely to see little incentive in trying to get these people onboard. And that’s mainly because of the explosive success the browser has been seeing. At the same time, alternatives like Pale Moon, Yandex, Firefox, Opera, and others are consolidating around their niches to appeal to the people who aren’t riding the Chrome train.

Chrome is a mixed bag. It’s seen an extraordinary amount of success over the years and has a very large fan base and a low turnover but has lots of areas where it is getting users concerned. At the other end of the field, there are lots of alternative browsers pushing their own features and unique “flavors” on the ideas that Google has pioneered. It will be interesting to follow this competition over the years and see whether Google will rectify the flaws in its browser so that it stays ahead of the curb. Or perhaps it may go the same way that Internet Explorer – the browser it is most known for toppling – did.

Which one of these fates do you see in Chrome’s future? Tell us what you think in a comment!

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