What you do with your mobile Web browser may depend heavily on which mobile operating system you're on, if the results of a new study by Opera can be extrapolated to other browsers. In its State of the Mobile Web monthly report for September 2011, released first to CNET today, Opera revealed that Opera Mini users were more likely to use it for search on Android, for travel and tourism on iOS, for sports and technology on BlackBerry, for news on Windows Phones, and for social networking on feature phones.
Opera and its subsidiary AdMarvel unveiled not only a bucketload of metrics on what kinds of sites Opera Mini users visited on different platforms, but that 131.3 million people used the Opera Mini in September, and that the browser had decent growth in multiple countries and devices.
Opera Mini is uniquely suited for cross-platform analysis because it's one of the few browsers that exists across all major platforms, and the only cross-platform browser with such a large number of users. By a point of comparison, the 131 million worldwide users of Opera Mini stands in stark contrast to the 55 million people worldwide who use the desktop version of Opera, and is about 28 percent of Mozilla Firefox's unique user base of more than 450 million people.
As strong as these aggregate numbers are, they also don't provide a glimpse into the Balkanization trend that affects the plethora of mobile systems far more than desktops. Opera did not reveal how many of its Mini users were on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, or feature phones, and those numbers could give a clearer picture of how mobile browser use is developing. Some studies I've seen indicate that the mobile browser is the dominant app; while others cite data showing that apps blew past the browser sometime earlier this year. Also, it makes a huge difference, for example, if Opera Mini is used by tens of millions of feature phone users, but only a couple million people on smartphones.
Despite those concerns, 131 million Opera Mini users is an impressive benchmark to score.
The report showed that the "unclassified" category of sites dominated all platforms with 27 percent to 31.5 percent of browser use. After that, social networking dominated Opera Mini use. Feature phones used the browser for this more than any platform by a massive percentage margin, at 20.5 percent, while the others were in the 9 percent to 13 percent range. This is hardly surprising, given that feature phones don't have social networking apps to redirect attention away from the browser.
It's in the other categories that dominated Opera Mini use where the platform differentiation began to creep in. "News and information" followed social, with Android, iOS, Windows, and RIM users all within 1.7 percent of each other. News reading dropped off for feature phones, though, around 2 percent behind RIM and almost 4 percent behind Windows.
The percentage of people using in-browser search were about the same on all platforms, the next most popular interest, but showed variation in the category after it. 5.3 percent of people on Android used Opera Mini to browse to education sites, while the users of other platforms hovered around 4 percent. Meanwhile, RIM dominated with sports and tech sites.
Browser growth September was Opera Mini's strongest month yet, according to Opera. Not only was it used by upwards of 130 million people, more than 79 billion pages were served and 11.6 petabytes of data were compressed for Mini users. Opera Mini functions by redirect all Web traffic through its compression algorithms to speed up page-load times over slow connections and older hardware. Opera did clarify that these numbers do not include operator-installed versions of Opera Mini; only individual users are reflected here.
The 131.1 million users was an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous month, and an 84.2 percent increase in unique users since September 2010. And although page views actually dropped 0.5 percent from August 2011, they have increased 114.1 percent since a year ago.
The 11.6 petabytes of data transferred represents not the actual amount of data sent back and forth, but the total amount of data transferred and then uncompressed at a 90 percent rate. Since one of Opera Mini's big draws is that it shrinks the amount of bits being transferred, looking at the raw numbers can be misleading. The September 2011 amount of actual data transferred was 1.251 trillion megabytes, a 133.7 percent increase from the same month in 2010.
Opera also released a closer look at some of its Mini data from Europe. Basically, the continent is a strong indicator of Opera use because of its diversity of handsets. Of the top 10 phones in the top 10 Opera Mini countries in Europe, 71 were Nokia, 10 were Samsung, six were Sony Ericsson, six were BlackBerry, six were Alcatel, and one was LG.
So, page views in the top 10 European countries using Opera Mini increased by 129 percent, unique users by 54 percent, and data transferred went up by 125 percent.
The data published on top sites was far less revealing, except to indicate that people use Opera Mini to visit the same sites that you'd expect to see at the top of any desktop browser list. The most popular sites on Mini with Europeans were Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia.
The massive growth of Opera Mini over the past year tells us several things about the state of mobile browsing. First, that although the highest-end handsets drive news, there is a huge public interest in a single browser that will work on all devices, from older feature phones to the latest from Apple. A big part of that is the ability to render the Web quickly, which Opera Mini can do in spades. We've also seen the idea reinforced that people use their mobile browser to check out the same kinds of high-profile sites that they do on their desktops, even as the users of different platforms begin to gravitate towards different specialized-interest sites. And finally, we can see that social networking is so big, that even on phones that have apps to support social networking sites, browser visits to social sites are a significant chunk of traffic.