Mobile First: Future-Proofing Your Website

In the world of web design there has been a significant turning point in recent years, and it has to do with the preferred devices of digital media users. Americans spend an average of 87 hours per month browsing on their mobile devices. In addition, 68% of digital media usage is on mobile devices, leaving only 32% for desktops and laptops. Considering that smartphones have surpassed PCs in sales over six years ago, it is likely that these numbers will only continue to trend in favor of mobile. This suggests a promising future for mobile-focused web design, and a bleak one for those who choose to neglect it. Businesses simply cannot afford to reject a mobile-first mentality when creating websites. Not only is it highly beneficial to a business’ online presence, it has become absolutely essential.

How it Works

Mobile-friendly web design entails various factors that make the browsing experience more pleasant and convenient for mobile users. With proper execution, the mobile version of a website should have nearly the same functionality as its desktop counterpart, without sacrificing performance and fast loading times.

While some smartphones boast impressive resolutions, the fact still stands that the screens are far smaller than those of standard laptops and monitors. Thus, designing websites for a compact touch screen display requires developers to rethink the prioritization of featured content. There is less space, and as a result, only the most important information should be neatly presented in a mobile-friendly format.

Changes often manifest in the form a “hamburger menu” (a drop-down list with an icon that somewhat resembles a hamburger) in the corner of the screen, as well as the integration of automatic resizing and reformatting based on the display size, known as “responsive” web design. Other features of mobile devices, such as GPS and movement and multi-touch controls, can be exploited by web developers to further tailor the web page to mobile users.


The benefits of mobile-first design are numerous and worthwhile. First and foremost, a notable factor to consider in a business’ success is client satisfaction. An Ericsson study produced surprising results regarding people’s reactions to poor performance and delays in mobile media. It found that the stress levels experienced when waiting for mobile content to load are comparable to the stress felt when watching a horror film. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) are a fairly new phenomenon that has been utilized by developers to greatly optimize mobile pages. AMP is an open source project from Google that began last year. Essentially, it is HTML5 code with certain parameters that make pages more efficient and lightweight. The results are impressive. AMP pages have a median load time of 0.7 seconds, whereas non-AMP pages have a median load time of 22 seconds. Since the average person now only has an eight-second attention span, this time gap makes a vast difference.

Not surprisingly, apps are heavily used on mobile devices to perform all sorts of tasks and their usage continues to grow. Despite this, it is worth noting that mobile web audiences are growing at a faster rate than mobile app audiences; nearly twice as fast. Social media, utilities, and multimedia services make up a majority of apps used. However, mobile web browsers are still used for finding products and services, especially on search engines like Google. Mobile web is used primarily for purposes of discovery. The problem that plagues mobile web is performance issues. According to Google’s statistics, 53% of mobile websites are abandoned by visitors when the loading takes more than three seconds. There is great promise in the future of the already popular mobile web. Developers simply need to optimize their web pages for faster viewing.

The “digital divide” is a term used to describe the disparity between the wealthy and poor in regard to the access to the internet and the hardware necessary to connect to it. In recent years, more low-income individuals have been able to procure smartphones, with 77% of all Americans being smartphone owners. That is a large jump from 35% just six years ago. The digital divide is more dramatic in various parts of the world outside of the United States, but it is closing fast, as many countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are seeing a growth in smartphone ownership. This means that more and more people worldwide will be using smartphones to browse the web. In order to reach more people, a mobile-first strategy is inevitable. This is especially true when considering that many are deciding to abandon traditional methods of internet surfing, such as desktops connected to a modem with an internet plan, and opting to rely on their smartphones. This growing trend is known as smartphone dependency, and it most common among low-income individuals. In 2013 only 8% of Americans were smartphone dependant, compared to 12% today. The increase may seem negligible, but the decreasing sales of PCs and the growing sales of smartphones and tablets implies that the percentage may continue to rise.

In 2015, there were 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions active worldwide. This is an already staggering number, but according to Ericsson, it is predicted that there will be over 6.1 billion smartphone users by 2020. The figures make it clear that mobile web will continue to be heavily utilized in the future. That said, businesses who optimize their websites for mobile use are essentially partaking in future-proofing. Mobile-friendly websites may take longer to build compared to basic websites, but the investment of time and resources can prove to be a great benefit in the present and onward into the future.

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