In December iPhone Jumps, OS X Plateaus, Safari Falls to Chrome

The last report for 2009 from web metrics firm Net Applications ends another solid year of growth for the iPhone OS. In contrast, Mac OS X appears to be flattening out at around five percent, while Chrome has officially passed Safari to become the third most popular web browser.

For December, the iPhone recorded the single largest monthly gain in market share since the device was introduced, jumping 20 percent from last month to 0.43 percent of the total OS market. While that may seem insignificant in terms of share, that spike fits in nicely with estimates of record-breaking iPhone sales for the holiday quarter. Those estimates range from 8.8 million to 11 million iPhones, and would smash last quarter’s record of 7.4 million iPhones sold.

In terms of where iPhone OS stands against competitors, it is now tied with ubiquitous Java ME devices, both at around 37 percent. However, it should be noted that Net Applications measures market share based on web browsing, so the value of an excellent browsing experience can outweigh actual sales.

Case in point, Android, which until the Droid has seen relatively poor sales, has nonetheless quintupled market share this year according to Net Applications, and now represents .05 percent of total OS share. That would be about half the share of the iPod touch. Looking at the iPhone OS overall, it now represents one half of one percent of OS market, about half the share of Linux and a tenth of what OS X has.

As for OS X, the numbers don’t lie. It’s a Windows world. OS X started 2009 at 4.71 percent and ended at 5.11 percent, an increase of about 8.5 percent. That’s not bad, but consider that two years ago OS X was at 3.59 percent of OS share, increasing to 4.45 percent by the end of 2008, a 24 percent increase. Apple sold more Macs than ever in 2009, so what happened?

The Great Recession happened, Windows 7 happened, but most importantly the netbook happened. 2009 saw Acer race past Apple in computer sales due exclusively to the cheap devices. Everyone is selling netbooks, except Apple, the company’s answer to the netbook being the long-rumored tablet set for a long-rumored unveiling later this month. While the tablet won’t reverse the trend for OS X, especially since it will probably be running iPhone OS, Apple will at least have an alternative for consumers looking at netbooks.

As for alternatives to Internet Explorer in web browsing, that would be Firefox, followed by Chrome, which is now followed by Safari. With the release of the Chrome beta for Windows, Mac, and Linux, it was only a matter of time before Safari was passed by. December makes it official. Chrome is now at 4.63 percent of browser share, followed by Safari at 4.46 percent. Safari appears to have plateaued at around 4.5 percent of total share.

Of course, with Apple it’s never been about market share for any product. The company’s business model has always been predicated upon selling a unique experience at a profit…considerable profit. If a consumer phenomenon like the iPod or iPhone happens, too, so much the better. It seems unlikely an Apple Tablet can replicate that kind of success against the netbooks, but it certainly will be exciting to watch it try.