The State of the Web Browser in 2020

They say millennials are the first generation born with information in the palm of their hands. If they need to know the weather in Australia, all they have to do is grab their phone. When they have to perform research for work, they open a web browser. To find out what’s playing at the movies, they let the search engine do the work. In fact, searching the internet has become so common that society has created a verb for research—”Google it.” 

Here are some of the key factors for a great online web browsing experience, with an analysis of how the leading browsers attempt to deliver these in 2020.

Web Browser News & Updates for 2020

  • January 2020: Microsoft replaced their Edge browser (formerly codenamed as project “Spartan”) with Edge Chromium on all consumer PCs running Windows 10
  • January 2020: Chromium announces their intentions to make third party tracking cookies obsolete
  • March 2020: Microsoft and Google announced their intention to postpone further development on their next browser updates due to COVID-19. Google later amended their announcement with an updated release plan
  • October 2020: A beta release of Microsoft Edge will be released for Linux
  • November 2020: As of the 30th the Microsoft Teams web app will no longer support Internet Explorer 11.
  • August 17, 2021: Internet Explorer 11 will no longer be supported on any Microsoft 365 app or service.

The Market Share of Browsers

Whilst the globalization of the internet continues to move at an exponential rate, the web browser continues to provide a gateway for its 4.5 billion users. Concurrently, the battle for market share has continued to intensify amongst the world’s leading browsing platforms.

  • Google’s Chrome browser dominates the market with its 69.9% share. 
  • All of Microsoft’s browsers combined (Internet Explorer, Edge, Edge Chromium) sit at 12.7%
  • Mozilla’s Firefox now sits at 7.2%
  • Safari now sits at a 3.6%

* As of September 2020. As reported by ComputerWorld, using stats provided by Net Applications

Naturally, each browser ardently strives to increase its appeal to users through the inauguration of new features, and consolidation of existing ones. 

What Are Web Browsers Competing For in 2020?

Speed and Memory Use

In an increasingly impatient and demanding environment, modern web browsers are required to respond to requests in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, most browsers are now able to handle these requests with relative ease, and a casual user probably would not notice a difference in execution speeds between the leading browsers. Due to their increasingly low memory usage, tests show that most web browsers are now able to load ten separate pages in under thirty seconds.

Security

A business owner’s biggest fear is a computer security breach. Whilst browsing platforms attempt to find more ways to protect users, more sophisticated ways to compromise data are also being developed. 

The creators of internet browsers are doing all they can to improve the security of their software. Most browsers, for instance, use automatic updates every four to every six weeks to ensure that users have the most current and secure software in place whilst simultaneously displaying a “lock” symbol in the address bar of some websites to indicate use of an HTTPS connection (extra layer of security) which makes it safer to enter personal information. As part of one of their regular security updates (sometimes just 15 days apart), Google Chrome had previously introduced notifications when an insecure website is accessed

In combination with these measures, Google pioneered a private browsing feature called “incognito mode” which prevents any login data or financial information from being saved. Other browsers have since followed suit, with Microsoft Edge being the latest, launching “InPrivate” in 2019.

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Privacy

Despite the introduction of private browsing options, many commentators continue to accuse popular web browsers of spying on the activity of users. A recent test by Geoffrey Fowler of The Washington Post compared the privacy protections of Google Chrome with those of the non-profit Mozilla Firefox. 

It was unearthed that Firefox blocked over 11,000 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have enabled. There is growing concern that the enablement of these cookies is allowing firms to build profiles of users’ interests, income, and personality. One study found these tracking cookies on 92% of websites.

Fowler says that these concerns can be heightened when looking at spying trends on mobile browsers, from which location data is saved each time a search is conducted. In light of this, a growing awareness of the tracking tendencies from cookies on our favorite browsers may coincide with an increase in the popularity of supposedly more “ethical” browsers. 

Indeed, Mark Mayo, senior vice president of Firefox at Mozilla is optimistic that there will be a growing recognition of Firefox’s dedication to protecting users’ privacy as far as possible with features such as its “Enhanced Tracking Protection”. Released in September 2019, the technology blocks third-party tracking and crypto mining by default. It is yet to be seen whether the supremacy of Chrome can be overhauled, but there is no doubt that there will be a robust attempt. “It is possible to compete with the biggest, most powerful, software companies in the world – arguably the largest companies ever, across any industry. It’s totally possible to beat them.”

Compatibility

What happens when you begin a search on one device then want to finish it on another? In the past, you would have to begin again. However, web browsers are now compatible across devices so that you can locate your search history whether you are on your mobile device, computer, or even your television.

Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all remember browsing history regardless of which device you are searching on. Edge takes this one step further with its “continue on PC” feature that allows you to send webpages to your personal computer from your mobile device. Microsoft’s Edge browser takes this one step further with it’s “continue on PC” feature that allows you to send webpages to your personal computer from your mobile device. Chrome’s sync allows you to access updated passwords across devices for easy log-on to different accounts.

The importance of compatibility across devices has never been greater. In 2013, mobile phones made up for 16.2% of web traffic worldwide. In 2020, this figure jumped to 51.53% of global website traffic even without the inclusion of tablet users.

Extension Support

Extensions increase the features of a web-browser. All of the leading web browsers provide a large and growing array of both paid and free extensions, many of which are developed by third-party providers.

Browser-based extensions are able to provide the features of a full-blown desktop program or mobile application but are run through a browser instead. The possibilities for these are unlimited, and Google reported that there are 188,000 extensions on its Chrome store as of August 2019. Some of its most popular applications, such as Grammarly, Adblock, and Google Translate have over 10 million individual installations.

Alongside their propensity to spawn productivity, efficiency, and entertainment, browser extensions can also pose threats to both privacy and security. Certain add-ons can be cunningly malicious, encompassing hidden profit-making objectives. Google Chrome prompts its users to grant permissions whilst Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari were originally granting extensions a free reign over data.

In 2019 various examples of “extension hijacking” were seen whereby a malicious hacker could upload an update of an add-on on behalf of a developer by using phishing to gain access to the credentials of developers. A well-documented example of this is that of “Youtube Queue” which was turned into adware in June 2019. 

User Experience

The task of delivering a consistent and effectual user experience across multiple devices has been an ongoing challenge for web browsing companies.

The consolidation of Google Chrome’s market dominance in 2020 has been largely attributed to its brand power. With their popularity as a search engine and their ownership of popular products such as Gmail and YouTube they were quickly able to establish a reputation and awareness of their browser. 

In 2019 Chrome’s decision to block ads that violate the coalition for Better Ads Standards also contributed to its popularity. This improved the user experience by improving loading speed as well as blocking intrusive advertisements that autoplay sound and video.

Other reasons Chrome became popular:

  • Before Chrome each browser tab loaded in sequence. New tabs could not be opened until the previous one loaded.
  • Each tab was its own process. When tabs crashed in Chrome you could maintain the integrity of the rest of the session. Other browsers would cause the entire program to crash along with the tab.
  • Chrome loaded more efficiently than competing browsers of the time and was more secure than Internet Explorer
  • Chrome introduced the Omnibar, which upgraded the original address bar with the ability to also submit search engine queries.

Mobile User Experience

On mobile, however, the necessity for a web browser is compromised by the high quality of user experience that is available on native apps. Apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger require access to cameras, microphones and the mobile operating system.

However, some commentators have recently pointed to a change in our behavior with regard to mobile application usage. The average American now downloads zero applications per month. Many “apps” are beginning to develop new functions that make their offering more comprehensive, and in turn, will allow them to be used as browsers themselves. An article by Hugh Durkin of Intercom has described Facebook as our “social browser”, Slack as our “browser for work”, and WhatsApp as our “browser for close tie friend networks.”

Ultimately, the traditional web browser will continue to be considered by most users as the most important piece of software on their PC.

Andy Phan
Andy Phan
Technical Specialist at CurrentWare - Fitness and Technology enthusiast, amateur volleyball player.