As Benedict Evans has noted, the next billion people who are poised to come online will be using the internet almost exclusively through smartphones. And if Google’s plans with Android One are any indication, then we have a fairly good idea of what kind of devices the “next billion” will be using:
- They’ll mostly be running Android.
- They’ll have decent specs (1GB RAM, quad-core processors).
- They’ll have an evergreen browser and WebView (Android 5+).
- What they won’t have, however, is a reliable internet connection.
This is the same argument that Tom made in his presentation at Responsive Field Day. The main point is that network conditions are unreliable, and I absolutely agree that we need to be very, very mindful of that. But I’m not so sure about the other conditions either. They smell like assumptions:
Assumptions are the problem. Whether it’s assumptions about screen size, assumptions about being able-bodied, assumptions about network connectivity, or assumptions about browser capabilities, I don’t think any assumptions are a safe bet. Now you might quite reasonably say that we have to make some assumptions when we’re building on the web, and you’d be right. But I think we should still aim to keep them to a minimum.
It’s not necessarily true that all those new web users will be running WebView browser like Chrome—there are millions of Opera Mini users, and I would expect that number to rise, given all the speed and cost benefits that proxy browsing brings.
I also don’t think that just because a device is a smartphone it necessarily means that it’s a pocket supercomputer. It might seem like a reasonable assumption to make, given the specs of even a low-end smartphone, but the specs don’t tell the whole story.
Alex gave a great presentation at the recent Polymer Summit. He dives deep into exactly how smartphones at the lower end of the market deal with websites.
Alex’s talk prompted Michael Scharnagl to take a look back at past assumptions and lessons learned on the web, from responsive design to progressive web apps.
We are consistently improving and we often have to realize that our assumptions are wrong.
This is particularly true when we’re making assumptions about how people will access the web.
It’s not enough to talk about the “next billion” in abstract, like an opportunity to reach teeming masses of people ripe for monetization. We need to understand their lives and their priorities with the sort of detail that can build empathy for other people living under vastly different circumstances.
That’s from an article Ethan linked to, noting:
When I read articles defining “the mobile web” as “decent hardware and evergreen browsers”, I start thinking hard about our industry biases.— Ethan Marcotte (@beep) October 13, 2016