May 26, 2017
My work is entirely dedicated to that of helping people build better, faster and more accessible apps and websites. Running Calibre has given me a lot of insight to the challenges that teams face while building and maintaining their little slices of the web.
Something that has really struck me this past year is how little we as a web industry know about the ways in which people (yep, real people, not other web developers) access the Internet, and tangentially, how antiquated our methods of delivering content to users really are.
Sure, we’ve had some major advances in the last couple of years that are dramatically improving how quickly we can push content down to devices, but ultimately as an industry not much has changed from the core premise of “load the HTML, find the other resources, then load them too.”.
Today, global Internet access is somewhere around 46.1%, that is only half of the population on this beautiful blue marble that we call home will have a rough idea of what ‘pull to refresh’ means. The rest? Well, they’re not connected, so they probably don’t.
If you investigate the growth of the web over the last three years, it won’t take very long to find that Internet access in India has been growing at a rate of which we’ve never seen before.
In 2016 alone, India introduced 106 million people to the Internet, for the first time. To add some perspective, that’s around 290,000 people, every day.
That’s growth of about 30% from 2015, and if those numbers are matched again in 2017 (this is highly likely), that’s another 140 Million people.
Indeed, only 35% of Indians are online today and the population is 1.2 billion.
We’re set for tremendous, unprecedented growth for the next few years.
Mobile usage surpassed desktop usage sometime during 2014—51.3% of devices with an Internet connection, are hand-held. Being that hand-held devices are generally far cheaper (and often just as capable for everyday tasks as their more expensive and less portable counterparts, desktop computers) this does not come as a great surprise.
Last year I did some research to calculate how much mobile data cost in a number of locations around the globe. Taking the local minimum wage, finding the carrier with the largest market share, and finding the best value for money prepaid plan that had at least 500mb of data.
It goes a bit further than that too, because even if you can afford to have a device, with a decent monthly data allowance, do not for one second assume that it will be fast.
Regardless of the average LTE speed, I have more, perhaps shocking news: 60% of the worlds average mobile connections, are 2G.
That isn’t just “2G speeds”, that’s a 2G connection. On your iPhone, you might’ve seen the network advertised as ‘Edge’, and everything… well, it stopped working, right?
You may be thinking, “Well, almost everyone I know has at least a DSL connection… that should be better than the speeds I’m reading here”, and unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case.
The global average Internet connection speed? 7 Mbps. 🤕
Late last year, a new 4G-only wireless network provider appeared after a year of private beta made up of their friends, family and employees.
In a few short months, Jio has, in one fell swoop changed the face of connectivity in India, as well as what I believe to be the world’s fastest customer growth curve that would bring Silicon Valley to its knees (if only they knew other countries existed 😏).
Since arrival to market, Jio have forced tariffs down by up to 80%.
The company commercially launched its services on 5 September 2016. Within the first month of commercial operations, Jio announced that it had acquired 16 million subscribers. This is the fastest ramp-up by any mobile network operator anywhere in the world. Jio crossed 50 million subscriber mark in 83 days since its launch. Jio crossed 100 million subscribers on 22 February 2017.Wikipedia
Right now, you might be sitting at a nice desk, using Wi-Fi on a computer that cost somewhere in the region of \$1600–3000 US dollars, or maybe a reasonably current specification Android or iPhone.
Given you’re most likely a part of the web development community (hey, that’s my audience), that isn’t surprising.
Aside from your parents, who have the same broken computer that was there when you left home… other people have current model machines, right?
Over the last few years I’ve seen and heard a lot about Android fragmentation, but I’m not certain I ever really understood it until I researched global smart phone sales.
Turns out I’d never heard of ⅔ of the phones being sold.
What I find striking about these statistics is not only the tremendous number of devices (have you ever tried to picture how much space 380 million phones would take up if you stacked them in a room?), but more so the fact that I’d never heard of a handful of these vendors—who sell in excess of 200M devices in just three months. 😳
Such a wide range of devices in the market leaves plenty of web developers with a sickly feeling in their stomach. How on earth are we meant to test all these, let understand their quirks intimately?
A strategy that I’m fond of is:
There’s some subtlety in testing on the right devices, but thankfully Alex Russell was kind enough to share his 2016 research, in which he did some detective work to find a single mobile device that best represented devices in the wild, could be purchased today and would make for a trustworthy test phone in the years ahead. 🕵
The criteria for such a device is as follows:
Most users receive phones via their carrier and the devices vary greatly over demographics and geography.
After conducting this research, Alex arrived at the Motorola G4 — which, statistically is quite a bit above average, there are a few caveats:
Device specifications are really huge factors when it comes to a smooth, delightful user experience, particularly if you’re relying on JS for interactivity and rendering. The more you put in script, the more dependent on local single-core performance your app becomes.
Lower powered devices will feel sluggish, whereas newer devices can run a number of pages at once, without breaking a sweat.
Real devices are important to develop empathy and understanding, but making testing trival is crucial for teams. Just like a continuous integration process, it should be automated and run regularly to develop a full timeline of changes in performance.
That’s why is so crucial to test with real devices, because your \$1,000 iPhone performs almost as well as a reasonably new Macbook Pro. That isn’t reality.
I hope that the information that I’ve put forward to you has given you something that you can point at, stamp your feet and say “We need to do better”, because that’s the truth. We do.
For the web development community, there are two versions of the web, the one that we use daily, and the one that we don’t.
We know ourselves that connections vary by where you are: maybe you’re the wrong end of the building, at a conference, on a plane, in a tunnel or for whatever fucking reason the modem needs restarting again.
We must stop optimising for $3,000 dollar computers with fast connections.
If you take a peek outside your bubble, you’ll find that we’re really just not trying hard enough to build beautiful, fast, efficient and delightful user experiences for our beloved ‘users’.
I’m certain that no one signed up to build the wealthy western web. We all build for the World Wide Web, and its time that we as a community started acting this way. 👍
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Engineering Manager at Google Chrome