The New Landscape of The Web.
- 3 minutes
- February 24, 2020
Let’s hike through the new landscape of the web today. Ready?
Just look at the variety and number of devices that are on the web today!:
Tesla cars, Apple Watches, foldable phones, OLED TVs and whatnot.
The web is no longer just a mobile or desktop utility. It is a lot more. And yes each of these devices that I have listed on the image-art above sport a very dedicated and modern web browser within. Which means you can reach more and more people wherever they are and in the moment.
In my opinion, the web is doing perfectly fine, thriving even!, despite the opposite narrative and the massive threat from nefarious and corrupt state actors. By that, I mean finding and electing progressive leaders as opposed to insecure old corporate shills who want Net Neutrality dead.
Anyway, politics aside, from a tech standpoint not all is over in our Universe. We as web developers should focus on how we can make the web a better place by understanding the new landscape that is at our disposal and its potential and pitfalls from a lens of an applications developer.
Is Responsive Web Design kaput?
There are subtle differences in the way the web is accessed on the new devices. The viewing distance from an Apple Watch, for example, is just under a foot from the viewer’s eye.
The physical size of a smartwatch is barely an inch and a responsive layout with definition pixel units cannot scale correctly at that level. To deal with a subinch viewport we need to go beyond hardcoded breakpoints in pixels and think of an intrinsic UI that scales.
On a Tesla Model S the desktop-sized touchscreen display is held securely in portrait-mode, while the passengers are held back by a safety belt. In a moving car, the accessibility situation for folks is very different from someone sitting on a chair at office. On Tesla Model 3, similarly, the tablet-sized touchscreen is always in landscape orientation. A different situation altogether.
The viewing distance too from the bay of a car seat is higher than normal. Almost double the viewing distance from a desktop sitting on the table. A foldable phone or tablet can turn from portrait-mode to landscape with simple unfolding, without needing the owner to turn the device physically.
All of this means new aspect ratios, novel device capabilities, fresh user expectations, and new accessibility challenges that are left unaccounted for by Responsive Web Design. It’s not enough.
In my opinion, this new edge of the web makes it quite an interesting time to become a web developer again! 🥳
Shown above are the new verticals to go after according to the latest landscape of the web.
Notice how RWD covers only two or three pieces on the chart above! Everything else is kind of clumped together and ignored with half-assed support for tablets and hi-res screens. Mainly because WD is bursting at its seams and cannot scale any further to support new mediums on the web.
I know, I said ‘probably’ before, but Responsive Web Design is kaput for sure.
*Note that all of the devices listed above other than cars (😅) can be held or mounted in two orientations. RWD doesn’t acknowledge orthogonality of orientations for web-design either.
Intrinsic Web Design.
The term Intrinsic Web Design was coined by Jen Simmons of Mozilla.
Conceptually, it is similar to responsive web design in that it simply means making your app UI “belong” to the device naturally. We’ll discuss IWD in great detail on a separate essay but on Toucaan we have adopted IWD as the main design philosophy of our framework. IWD is a superset of RWD, so we are covered for most of the hard-learned lessons of web-design from the past.
We will be discussing some of these ideas on this very blog and I welcome you to subscribe to our RSS feed if you are interested.
I am super excited about the possibilities on the new web.
Datafodder: Estimates vary, but Apple is said to be selling between 10 to 20 million watches each year, and all of the new ones sport LTE and a powerful webkit browser.