From the beginning of the internet’s existence until only very recently, desktop computers dominated the traffic online. Websites were built designed for monitor-sized viewing with multiple columns, smaller icons, mouseover tooltips, drop-down menus, etc. and were highly suited to the browsing habits of the day. Compare that to today – many of us spend most of our time browsing the web on our phones, rather than on desktop computers. This has caused a huge shift to the landscape of the tech industry and to the ways in which websites need to be built right now and will need to be built moving forwards into the 2020s.
In 2013, just 16% of global internet traffic was made up by users on mobile phones. Today, a mere seven years later, that number is around a staggering 53%. This shift presented and continues to present an enormous challenge to companies and developers looking to operate in essentially any online space. Where did it come from and what is driving this continued trend towards mobile traffic being advantaged in volume over desktop computer traffic?
Of course, it’s challenging to summarize all the societal and technological changes that have occurred over the past seven years, especially when considering a shift in something that is global. But a good place to start looking is at the most populous countries on Earth – China, and India. The recent domestic developments in China have seen an increase in standard of living for millions of people, which has translated into a hugely booming number of mobile internet users, rapidly shifting from around 650 million in 2015 to about 920 million today, only five years later! In India the speed of growth in mobile internet users is even more dramatic, doubling in those same five years from 240 million in 2015 to around 480 million today.
These huge shifts reflect the affordability and accessibility of mobile phones for internet usage over desktop computers, which are still prohibitively expensive for many in these yet-developing economies. Yet it isn’t only an issue of developing economies – in more prosperous countries such as the USA, mobile phone users are increasingly exhibiting a preference for using browsers over apps to access content online. This may be caused by a number of factors but likely feature issues such as a resistance to installing ever more apps of ever-increasing size to already hard-pressed storage options on mobile phones.
Further trends pushing users away from desktop computers and towards mobile phones include the massive growth of the mobile gaming industry, which now dominates the gaming space overall with an outlandish almost $70 billion annual revenue last year. Mobile gaming continues to attract more and more players and from a broader and broader background than desktop gaming – most people who game today are doing so on their mobile phones – causing a huge shift in the dynamics of the industry. The mobile gambling space, for example, has had to react to this shift by actions such as making sure that UK slot sites are completely mobile friendly.
At the end of the day, the simple fact that we all keep our mobile phones in our pockets and bags as we head out into the world means that we will end up using them for intermittent internet browsing simply by necessity. Who can whip out a laptop, let alone a desktop computer, with functioning internet connectivity at every bus stop, on every train ride and every other mini-break during our busy lives? We use our mobile phones for browsing because they are what we have, quite simply!
Adapting to this is an ongoing challenge to tech companies and it simply isn’t feasible in 2020 to launch a website that isn’t tailored for mobile viewing. Given the outline of the trends pushing users towards mobile browsing, such as the tech growth in China and India, it’s not something that we anticipate will slow down any time soon. The message in this context is very clear – focus your websites on mobile-friendliness first and foremost, and develop desktop browser content as an afterthought, if even then!