Wandering Thoughts archives


My concern about the potential dominance of the mobile web

Yesterday I wrote about how I don't know and can't find out how dominant the mobile web actually is. Today, let's take the (implicit) claims of the 'mobile first' design people as given and posit that the mobile web is either already dominant or going to become dominant in the not too distant future. In that case, well, I have concerns. In fact they are predictable concerns and are basically wrapped up in that nice phrase of 'mobile first' design.

Put simply, the web has seen this show before but back then it was usually called 'IE first design' or before then 'Netscape first design'. What these really translate to is that everyone else is a de facto second class citizen. Oh, sure, some amount of designers have good intentions and want to do a good job for other people (like the desktop web), but designers (and web developers) also have deadlines and priorities and only so much time. When you say 'mobile first', you implicitly accept that desktop people are allowed to have a degraded experience. That's what putting someone second means.

This is a direct concern of mine because I'm exclusively a desktop user, and more than that a Linux user of Firefox. This puts me well outside even the outside area of a broad 'mobile first' design (which is likely to target Safari and Chrome). This goes beyond worries about non-functional websites, as mobile first designs are likely going to be built for significantly smaller screen sizes than I have (well, smaller browser window sizes than I have). A functional website that wastes three quarters of the screen space I have and squeezes all of the content into a small area is probably not going to make me very happy.

(In theory responsive design can deal with this. In practice, I'm not at all convinced that people can (or will) make designs that scale across that large a screen size change, especially if mobile becomes their first priority.)

All of this concern is probably somewhat overblown, for many reasons including that much of my use of the web is fundamentally a diversion. In fact, the growth of the mobile web may have seen off the largest threat to the usable web that I've faced, namely the growth of Javascript-mandatory websites. Those defy even 'view page in no style' or Firefox's reader view.

(My understanding is that JavaScript on mobile is a lot slower and more power-hungry than it is on desktop, especially on lower end smartphones. My impression is that this has led to less client side JS and more server side content rendering in mobile focused website designs, although I may be out of touch here.)

web/MobileWebDominanceConcern written at 01:08:53; Add Comment

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