Exclusive: The browser wars will only end one way – and these numbers show why
New figures have highlighted the scale of the difficult struggle facing small Navigator sellers trying to compete with the likes of Google Chrome, Safari and Microsoft Edge.
Data provided exclusively to Tech Radar Pro by the digital intelligence platform SimilarWeb shows that the number of downloads of Operaone of these challenger browsers, is comparable to the number achieved by Microsoft Edge.
Between January and May 2022, Opera’s download confirmation page was visited 12.03 million times on desktop, while traffic to the Edge download page totaled 12.40 million. Unlike Opera’s data, Edge’s numbers are not indicative of completed downloads, meaning the smaller browser may actually have attracted After downloads than its larger counterpart for the period.
However, despite what these statistics may suggest about the popularity of each service, the market share data from Statcounter (opens in a new tab) shows that Microsoft Edge (10.12%) enjoys nearly four times as many desktop users as Opera (2.8%). So what explains this incongruity?
The power of default
One interpretation of the data is that while browsers like Opera may generate similar interest to those released by Big Tech players (and may be of similar objective quality), their ability to compete on an anchor level is hampered by forces outside the specific market.
More importantly, Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed with all Windows 10 and 11 devices, which number in the billions. Opera’s browser, meanwhile, comes pre-installed on virtually no device, so the company has to rely exclusively on software innovation to attract users.
Until steps are taken to prevent Apple, Google and Microsoft from exploiting their control of major operating systems to promote their own software, it will remain virtually impossible to mount an effective challenge for companies like Opera.
This was confirmed recently by the managing directors of DuckDuckGo and Proton, in conversation with Tech Radar Pro. While neither company primarily competes in the browser space, they face identical headwinds in their core markets: look for and E-mailrespectively.
“If antitrust regulation doesn’t address failures, it’s only addressing 5% of the problem. It really is the elephant in the room,” explained Andy Yen, CEO of Proton. “If you don’t tackle this coin, you don’t break the monopoly.”
Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, made a similar complaint about how Google handles default services on its Android platform.
“On Android right now, it takes more than fifteen clicks to change the default search engine, but we really think it should be one click. If that kind of system was in place, we could be five or ten times bigger today,” he told us.
“It is very important to open up these kinds of industries. The answer to this problem is regulatory, so we are working with bodies around the world to make this happen.
Is all hope lost?
While the odds are in Microsoft’s favor, there are signs that the company may have crossed the line in its efforts to funnel people to Edge.
For example, the company was recently forced to reverse a policy this added an unreasonable amount of friction to the process of changing the default browser after users made their displeasure known.
Microsoft too came under fire for efforts to prevent links opened through its own services (e.g. Windows 11 widgets, Start menu, etc.) from launching in any browser other than Edge, another underhanded tactic that has drawn criticism from the community.
While the power of default is strong, so is consumer sentiment, so it’s possible that missteps like this will play into the hands of smaller challengers.
Separately, there are indications that regulators have accepted the seriousness and urgency of the situation. Take for example the recent measures announced by the European Union (EU) under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
The DMA seeks to limit the power of so-called “gatekeepers”, whose dominant market position and wealth of resources would limit the ability of smaller competitors to accumulate market share. It includes measures to prevent gatekeepers from ranking their own products higher in search results and to prevent users from uninstalling preloaded apps.
The US has been slower to act than the EU, in part because of national pride in its famous tech brands. However, the wheels are now starting to turn, and landmark antitrust legislation is expected to kick in in the coming years, opening the door for Opera and its genre.
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