The mobile performance inequality gap 2021 | Alex Russell

A frankly depressing look at the state of the mobile web in 2021. From lacklustre technological advancement in the past decade, to increasing device saturation, and the overuse of JavaScript, here's the main conclusion:

  1. The global performance baseline provides ~100KiB (gzipped) of HTML/CSS/fonts and 300-350KiB of JavaScript (compressed and assuming minimal HTTP requests);
  2. The web is losing to native because performance genuinely matters, and it shouldn't be.

On how one poorly performing site can lead users away from the web and towards apps:

Bad individual experiences can colour expectations of the entire ecosystem.
Plenty of native apps are happy to aggregate content and serve it up in a reliably fast package, given half a chance. The consistency of those walled gardens is a large part of what the mobile web is up against — and losing to.
CPUs are not improving fast enough to cope with frontend engineers' rosy resource assumptions

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On how a single disruptive carrier forced India's mobile market to embrace 4G, significantly improve cost (as much as 95% reduction in some areas), and brought an entire country online with stable, fast connections:

In 2016, Jio swept over the subcontinent like a monsoon dropping a torrent of 4G infrastructure and free data rather than rain.

Interesting that slow 4G is now considered a global baseline speed. That's impressive, given that 5 years ago slow 2G was the baseline 😬

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On global smartphone purchase trends:

The worldwide device replacement average is now 33 months. In markets near smartphone saturation, that means we can expect the median device to be nearly 18 months old.

As of 2021, the average smartphone looks a lot like a Moto G7: Android, mid-tier, about 2-3 years old, running Chrome.

But average is only half the market. A better baseline would be the Moto E6 (or even Moto G4): still Android and Chrome, quad-core, 2GB RAM.

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On how those same trends are creating a significant inequality gap:

As high-end phone performance accelerates away from mass-market devices (still largely with the same performance as 2012) we're creating a high inequality gap:
When we construct a digital world to the limits of the best devices, the worse an experience we build, on average, for those who cannot afford iPhones or $800 Samsung flagships.

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On the folly (and privilege) of making choices based on DX instead of UX:

But we must never forget that measurable improvement for users is the yardstick.
Trickle-down user experience from developer-experience is, in 2021, as fully falsified as the Laffer Curve. There's no durable substitute for compassion.

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On what comes next:

But there's light at the end of the tunnel: if we can just hold back the growth of JS payloads for another year or two — or reverse the trend slightly — we might achieve a usable web for the majority of the world's users by the middle of the decade.

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