Note: Web development coming full circle?

I was recently away on vacation in Cornwall. I took the laptop and iPad with me, expecting to rely on it for connectivity. Staying in a caravan park meant there was no WiFi, and the area in Cornwall we were in had no 3G access. So although connected, it was over GPRS, which by current standards, isn’t great.

Something occurred to me. In early days of web development, one of the major considerations was page size. At that time, the vast majority of visitors were on say 56k dialup – so big flash videos and image heavy websites were a huge no-no – they took far too long to download. It’s reasonable to assume that this requirement has gradually but surely lessened in recent years, as the ubiquity of high speed broadband has increased. We’ve gone from 512k to expecting 4mb+ within the space of a few years, and the current trend in website has changed to reflect this – designers can be far more creative in their use of images, reasonably safe in the knowledge that the majority of users will be on a decent connection. Who still uses 56k dialup nowadays? Your target demographics will surely now be on a reasonable connection, and the necessity to scrimp and compress every last byte out of a page is reduced. Right?

Well,  having spent a week on GPRS… and become increasingly frustrated by it, I wonder if developers/designers need a rethink. Mobile access to websites is set to increase massively in the next few years – the netbooks, tablets and smartphones have assured that, and so we must once again reconsider the effect of our pagesizes. It’s not reasonable to assume that all mobile users will have access to 3G speeds, so those accessing on Edge speeds or below, will definitely thank the designers who remember that they should always design for the lowest common denominator.

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