The browser war is far from over

May 20, 2013: 11:23 AM ET

It's just gone mobile.

FORTUNE – There was a time when web browsers duked it out for dominance on the desktop. But with users consuming information more and more on smartphones, tablets, and newer form factors like "phablets," the battleground has shifted to mobile. Who's winning?

As recently as June 2012, the competition was in a dead heat: Android led with nearly 22%, followed by Opera at 22%, then Safari on iOS with 21% according to StatCounter. Google's (GOOG) Android has cemented a solid lead since then with 31%, iOS at 24%, and Opera trailing with 15%.

mobile oS

The stock Android browser pulled ahead of Opera and Safari for iOS last summer.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, given the proliferation of Android devices. According to the analytics firm IDC, Android phone makers shipped 162 million devices during the first quarter of 2013; Apple (AAPL) shipped 37 million. (And in case you're curious, Windows Phone came third, with 7 million.)

RockMelt, a desktop-focused web browser that launched in late 2010, recently announced it was changing course. In the two-and-a-half years since launch, the innovative browser which integrated social network and RSS feed integration right into the browser window, only signed up 4.5 million users. Like it or not, the desktop market is a landscape ruled with a virtual iron fist by the likes of Microsoft (MSFT) Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. "Browsers today are just big dumb windows in [consumers'] way," Rockmelt co-founder and CTO Tim Howes told The Wall Street Journal recently. Rockmelt recently announced Rockmelt for Web, a content aggregator any Internet user with a browser can access.

On iOS, there's no shortage of Web browsers to choose, from Opera to the lesser-known Atomic Web Browser, all of which try to put their own spin on mobile Internet browsing to stand out: features like accelerated Web site loading, different ways to juggle Windows, bookmark syncing, among others.

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But there's a problem for third-party developers. Much like Internet Explorer is the pre-loaded browser on Microsoft Windows, Android is the default browser on the Android operating system, as Safari is on iOS. Which is why, according to StatCounter, such offerings are at a distant fourth place right now. "The thing is, Safari and Android are default recipients of your link, and what's going to overcome that?" explains Forrester analyst Charles Golvin. You can download other browsers, but there isn't a setting like on the PC that makes a browser like Firefox or Google Chrome the go-to browser. "Until that's the case, we're not going to get as much real competition."

Still, companies like Maxthon, which The Journal reports has 120 million users, is pushing forward with its own desktop, mobile, and in-car browser offerings, which includes a deal this year with Pioneer Electronics where drivers and passengers can surf the web via touch-screen device.

Translation: The browser war is far from dead. They're just more cross-platform than ever.

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