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What is the Future of Mobile Web Browsing?

As more of us are using tablets, Androids, iPhones and other mobile devices to access the Interwebs, so just what is the future of mobile web browsing?

duane-store-brave-new-codeWe asked Duane Storey, co-founder of of BraveNewCode for his expert views on the subject.

BraveNewCode is the company behind one of the most downloaded and leading mobile WordPress plugins of all time, WPtouch.

WPtouch Pro is designed to make it easier to offer great mobile experiences for WordPress sites.

The free version has been downloaded over 4 million times from the WordPress repository, with many users going on to purchase the premium version along with awesome support from BraveNewCode.

If anyone can tell what the future holds for mobile web browsing and WordPress it’s going to be Duane.  So let’s get started..

Q: Where do you see mobile browsing going in the next 5 years?

DS: We’re almost at the point where mobile browsing is on par with desktop browsing in terms of traffic, at least for some demographics. From a web-design perspective we used to get people designing desktop sites and then thinking of mobile only as an afterthought.  We don’t get that very often now – most people are either thinking mobile and desktop at the same time, or sometimes even mobile first.

I think there has been a trend of desktop/laptop computers getting smaller (think devices like the Macbook Air) and mobile devices getting slightly larger (Nexus, iPad Mini, Android tablets).  Other than people who do hardcore image processing, video processing, or gaming, I think a typical computer is overkill for most tasks nowadays. I’m going to be doing an experiment soon to see if I can do most of my day-to-day tasks on an iPad mini with a Bluetooth keyboard. I don’t think I can do it all today, but I suspect in a year or two I probably will be able to.  And at that point I probably won’t really need a laptop or a desktop computer anymore.  So while mobile and desktop experiences are quite dissimilar now, I think they are on a development path that will eventually converge, or at least have far more overlap then they have today.

Q: What impact do you think that will have on what companies need to do online?

More and more of what companies and individuals do these days is being migrated to the cloud. That has a lot of advantages, such as being to access the same information from multiple machines and locations, and also being able to collaborate with other employees.   BraveNewCode for example heavily leverages cloud services: Calendar on iCloud for scheduling, DropBox for sharing files, Basecamp for task management, Beanstalk for revision control, and of course shared email accounts. Whenever we buy a new machine, it’s trivial to get it up and running since we just activate the various cloud services and the new computer is ready to go as soon as everything is done synchronizing.

I think as internet speeds continue to increase over the next few years there will come a point in time when that synchronization step that we do internally at BraveNewCode will simply not be necessary – a person can be productive simply by accessing everything in the cloud. At that point computers will go back to being dumb terminals, simply as a means to access data and services in the cloud.

Q: What part do you think WordPress and the community of developers can play in that?

DS: There was a brief period of time where some of the development within WordPress started to reflect the idea that more and more people would be doing work offline – the integration with Google Gears in the administration panel is a good example of that.  I haven’t heard that mentioned in a long time though, so I suspect it’s not really supported anymore.  And I think the reason is self-evident – most of us are always online in some capacity. In all my travels around the world, there haven’t been many periods of time where I haven’t been able to get my devices on the internet.  I remember one time in particular in Bali, Indonesia, where I was in a remote hotel with a beautiful view of mountains and rice fields, and sure enough I could log into a Wi-Fi router and get online.

As a result I think there has been a general shift for developers to move more and more services to the cloud.  For example, you can now do backups into the cloud, redistribute your wp-content files into various content deliveries networks (CDNs) around the cloud, and also write content from your various mobile devices thanks to device-specific applications.  You’ve also seen various cloud services emerge like ManageWP which help manage multiple WordPress installations via their online dashboard – you can update plugins remotely, push content to various servers, and basically simplifies the task of managing all of these servers.

Q: What impact, if any, do you think mobile browsing will have on the desktop experience?

DS: Most people have heard the buzz-phrase ‘Responsive Design’ over the last few years, and it’s essentially a design philosophy that neuters desktop elements or restyles them for mobile devices. Recently we’ve seen that philosophy start to fall out of favour, and with good reason – the mobile and desktop experiences are quite dissimilar, so to assume the mobile browsing experience should more or less mimic the desktop experience with only a few stylistic changes is insufficient.

A good example of this is with desktop media. In a typical responsive design, the media (such as images) in a post are simply served as-is to a mobile user.  But it makes little sense to send a 1400px wide image to a device that perhaps can only show a 800px image due to device limitations.  The end result is a slow mobile experience, and for many types of sites, such as eCommerce ones, the added delay with downloading unnecessary media may make the difference between making a sale or not.

Right now many mobile design techniques, such as responsive design,  force the mobile experience to be sacrificed while the desktop experience is left unchanged.  I think going forward you’ll see this become more of a compromise, or possibly even a complete reversal, with compromises forced upon the desktop experience to help elevate the mobile browsing experience.

Q: If you had a superpower – what would it be and why?

DS: Teleportation most likely.  Since my role at BraveNewCode allows me to travel and work remotely, I’ve visited nearly 30 countries over the past three years. While it’s been a great adventure, it’s always hard saying goodbye to friends you meet along the way. If I could teleport I could go back and visit those people whenever I wanted, or to visit friends and family back home during an extended leave of absence.

Conclusion

Wow, if Duane is correct we’re going to see mobile devices taking over the role of desktops if not equalling their business productivity, without compromising the users online experience.

I for one can’t wait for that to happen.

A big thanks to Duane for taking the time to give us a better insight into this exciting new frontier of mobile web browsing, written during his round-the-world travels.

Do you agree with Duane’s views on the direction of mobile web browsing?

Keep In Touch

Wil

Wil is a dad, consultant, developer, conference organiser, speaker and business mentor. He co-organizes the WordPress Sydney meetup group and has been on the orgnising committee for WordCamp Sydney since 2014. He speaks at many technical events and contributes to the WordPress open source project. His likes are chillies, craft beer and electrogravitics.
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