Google Chrome turned five last month and after a remarkable rise, its growth appears to have stalled, at least on the desktop.
Chrome's global desktop market share slipped to 15.96% in September, the lowest it has been in the past two years, according to NetMarketShare, and off its high of 19.13% in August 2012.
"Chrome seems to be following a similar path to Firefox's," said Vince Vizzaccaro, executive VP of marketing and strategic alliances at NetApplications.com, in an email. "A seemingly meteoric rise, and then a period of steadiness. It might be that they've reached the majority of people they can, who are willing to switch from IE or Firefox."
Vizzaccaro added, "Chrome is the new kid on the block, but let's not forget that IE was the original disruption to the market that Netscape once owned. Historical data trends show there will be another disruption to the browser market at some point — it's just a matter of when, and by whom."
The news is better for Chrome's mobile market share, which was just 0.67% in September 2012 and now stands at 6.34%, according to NetMarketShare.
But that growth has largely been at the expense of Google's own Android browser, which lost 4 percentage points from its November 2012 highwater mark as Chrome gained 5 percentage points. Chrome for Android was released in beta form in February 2012 and for iOS in April 2012.
[ Want to know how Google's doing in the business software market? Read Google's Enterprise Cloud Problem. ]
Better still from Google's perspective: Since Chrome debuted on iOS, the market share of Apple's mobile Safari browser -- Google's main rival at the moment -- has declined to 54.19% from a high of 66.43%.
Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, another metrics firm, suggests that Chrome might have plateaued but hasn't declined. Regarding mobile usage, he said in an email, "If we combine the Chrome and Android figures (to get the total usage share for Google's mobile browsers), that share doesn't appear to be in decline. It has been holding steady between 32% and 33% for the last few months."
As for desktop usage, Cullen maintains it's too early to tell if Chrome has peaked. Pointing to the seasonal variation in Chrome, he said we'll need to wait a few more months to get a handle on whether Chrome usage has begun to decline.
By StatCounter's measure, Chrome's global market share for desktop and mobile stood at 40.8% in September 2012, down from a high of 43.12% in July.
W3Counter, another firm that measures browser usage, put Chrome's market share at 31.4% in September, down from a high of 32.6% in June.
Google didn't respond to a request for comment. However, the company has taken several steps that should help sustain Chrome's growth. First, there's Chromecast, the company's $35 media-streaming device for TVs, which comes with Chrome built in. Second, Web apps built to Google's standalone Chrome Apps standard contain the Chrome runtime, so anyone who uses them at least temporarily becomes a Chrome user. Third, Google's Chromebooks, which rely on Chrome OS, have been gaining traction in the low-price notebook market and among schools. Fourth, over the summer, Google made Chrome the default browser for Android version 4.3 and later and Android adoption continues to expand. Finally, Google's decision to update Chrome every six weeks or so gives Chrome a marketing advantage over Apple Safari and Microsoft Internet Explorer, which aren't updated as frequently, because of greater opportunity to gain coverage in tech news outlets. Google Trends suggests an awareness of Chrome that goes beyond what one might expect from its market share.
But for Google, the issue might not be whether Chrome can continue its growth pattern as much as whether Chrome can keep pace with what's happening in Asia's mobile market. Looking at StatCounter's mobile browser statistics, Chrome appears to have competition: The UC Browser, which is popular in China and India, has a global market share of 11.8%, compared to 4.63% for Chrome. The rumored November arrival of Apple's iPhone on China Mobile, home to some 740 million subscribers, could also complicate the situation for Google, Android and Chrome.
Now at its fifth anniversary, Chrome's ascent can no longer be assumed. There's some low-hanging fruit in the form of market share that can be taken from BlackBerry and Nokia. But after that, the climb becomes steeper.