Does WebRTC have a Role in Chrome’s Market Dominance?

20/03/2017

WebRTC, Chrome, Market share. These are all intertwined, but WebRTC isn’t the only reason Chrome is dominant today.

The nagging question about support of WebRTC in Internet Explorer and Safari refuse to go away. I hear them almost on a daily basis in meetings I have, emails I receive and posts I read. In recent months. Things being what they are for the past 5 years or so, I have decided to ask a slightly different question –

If a browser doesn’t support WebRTC – will it hurt the browser’s adoption?

My inclination until recently was that WebRTC doesn’t matter that much. It is a great technology, but it won’t really hurt the market share of browser vendors that decide not to adopt it wholeheartedly.

Want to run WebRTC on anything? Check out my free WebRTC Device Cheat Sheet.

And then I read this story: Safari browser sheds users, mimicking IE

According to California-based analytics vendor Net Applications, in March 2015, an estimated 69% of all Mac owners used Safari to go online. But by last month, that number had dropped to 56%, a drop of 13 percentage points — representing a decline of nearly a fifth of the share of two years prior.

I took the liberty of using StatCounter for my own check, focusing on the desktop browser and operating system (mobile is different opera).

Here’s what you’ll find when you look from the beginning of 2012 and up until today – roughly the time frame of WebRTC’s existence:

What can we see here?

  1. Edge starting to see “some” traction, but a lot less than what you’d expect. I’ve covered that one before
  2. Internet Explorer is on the decline, with the bitter end already known
  3. Firefox shedding users
  4. Safari keeping in the 5% market share – we will get back to this one in a second
  5. Chrome is the only browser that is increasing its market share, apparently grabbing it from all other browsers
  6. If you think at WebRTC Chrome market share, I am sure numbers will look a lot more in favor of Chrome – and not only because Safari and IE don’t support WebRTC

Is Safari really keeping its market share or losing market share? To answer that question, we need to look at the desktop operating systems market share for that same period:

I’ll make it simple for you. In the past 5 years, OS X grew from around 7% to over 11%. That’s a growth of over 50% in its market share.

While at the same time, Safari, available only on OS X AND the default browser on OS X – didn’t grew in its market share.

Which means that people using Mac OS X are now more inclined towards using Chrome than they were 5 years ago.

Today, people CHOOSE their browser on the desktop and don’t use the default one provided to them by the operating system.

And when they choose, they more often than not pick Chrome.

I know:

  • Statistics are just that, and it all depends on what you count – but there’s a trend here that is being counted through a long period of time that is hard to ignore
  • It depends on regions, as there are areas who are still predominantly IE and countries with people who love Firefox

Why is Chrome our default browser these days?

This is a tough question to answer. For me, it is the one I am most comfortable with. Since I switched to it from Firefox years ago, I never looked back – and when I do – I just return back to Chrome.

If I had to estimate, it has to do with developers. It isn’t quite related to APIs, apps or the creation of developer ecosystems where innovation and value creation happens.

No. It is about developers as early adopters.

The people who spread the word and get their friends and family to switch browsers when things don’t work for them.

The people who end up building websites and working on them daily on… Chrome… which brings it all into a virtuous cycle, as now sites work better on Chrome, so you end up having more users use it, which means developers will target it first, increasing its popularity.

Google has done a lot to get it there. It started by making a lean and mean browser that had tabs crash independently of each other, and from there it grew with the set of rich developer tools it has and the technologies packed into it.

Other browsers have been trying recently to innovate as well, but it seems this haven’t caught on with the mainstream crowds just yet.

Is this a good thing?

Today, Chrome is the de facto standard for browser behavior.

There are other browsers as well, but their market share is declining – not growing or even stagnating. If this continues, Chrome will become the only play in town on the desktop.

This isn’t a good thing. It gives too much power in the hands of Google.

That said, Chrome is mostly open source (Chromium), it adheres to standards as much as can be expected from a product used by so many people daily.

But  they can change their minds at some point in the future.

On the other hand, we’re now all mobile, and there, the browser is a lot less important.

What does that mean for WebRTC?

as stated, Chrome is the de facto standard for browser behavior.

So much so that Edge is doing its best to look like a Chrome browser to developers, making it easier to interoperate with.

Should you develop based on the WebRTC specification? No.

You should develop based on what’s available in Chrome and what is planned for it in the mid term, as well as make use of adapter.js. adapter.js allows you to write code that conforms to the specification even when browsers don’t support it yet.

There’s the W3C flavor of WebRTC and then there’s the Chrome implementation of WebRTC.

Developers should stick to the Chrome implementation of WebRTC.

If you need WebRTC to work for you, you’ll need to understand how to get it running on any device and browser. My WebRTC Device Cheat Sheet is still as relevant as ever. It’s free, so go ahead and download it.

Get the cheet sheet

Responses

Hugh Isaacs II says:
March 21, 2017

Also something unsaid, Facebook video calls on desktop only work in Chrome and Firefox and when users try calling people in Safari or IE it tells them to switch to Chrome or Firefox.

Reply
Philipp Hancke says:
March 22, 2017

if you look at the right figures you’ll find that about 0.012% of sites used by Chrome users use WebRTC. Its measurable only because Chrome is huge.

Reply
Robert O'Callahan says:
March 27, 2017

“Develop for Chrome”, if widely adopted, would mean the end of Web standards. That is not good for anyone.

It’s not even good for Google. If developers test only on Chrome then their sites come to depend on Chrome bugs, so Google can no longer fix those bugs. Those unfixable bugs make life miserable for Chrome devs and Web devs for all time.

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    March 27, 2017

    Robert,

    Lets call it Chrome-first then?

    If you have a business to run, you’d make sure it works best for your target audience, which more often than not will be Chrome on the web. For WebRTC at least, Chrome is slowly adopting the “standard” (something without an RFC yet ind you), so at this point in time, if you care to have customers, make sure they can use your stuff – have it run on Chrome.

    Reply

Comment