Adam Gowland Written by

Google Steps Up - The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

Posted on 13th November, 2015 in Development, Digital

Mobile: the outgoing, ubiquitous sibling of desktop. Mobile is a mover and a shaker. There’s a limitless possibility to the variety of websites loaded on the go, but sometimes Mobile can be a little slow. While we have forgiven this youthful attitude in the past, it is time mobile got up to speed and started keeping pace with today’s expectations of user experience.

Why does mobile speed matter?

Mobile speed matters because users matter. And users have short attention spans. Users don’t understand the limitations mobile has, such as unreliable 3G connections when trying to load pages and you’ll have trouble eliciting sympathy from a user that can’t access the information that they need. 

Page views from mobile will only grow as smartphones and tablets become more sophisticated and widely used. Mobile page speed will need practical solutions to keep users satisfied with the browsers on their phones. Developers can only work with what they are given, which is where browsers can step in to innovate and provide developers with a better platform on which to develop the mobile web.

What has been done so far?

At the start of 2014 I wrote about Google's attempt to speed up mobile web browsing via a Chrome update. This update essentially proxied the web, compressed it, and then served it up to your mobile device. Apart from the announcement of an extension for Chrome on the desktop achieving the same thing a year later, it’s been incredibly quiet.

A low point was the Verge's article, "The mobile web sucks" which makes a number of solid points. If only the Verge's website wasn't a perfect example of the very issues it was trying to raise. The article depressingly loads more than 50 javascript files into a single page load, most of which is unavoidably necessary advertising and tracking.

Google have realized the Chrome update mentioned above didn't achieve what it was set out to do. The mobile browsing experience hasn't improved from a speed perspective. Its latest effort on the same topic is the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project.

It immediately gained more traction in the press for a number of reasons; possibly because it is open source, it isn't locked into Chrome, or because of the high profile websites (Daily Mail, New York Times, BBC) who have already expressed an interest.

The early adopters tend to be the big hitters, like the BBC and the Guardian, who already deliver a good mobile experience.

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So what is Accelerated Mobile Pages?

In short, it is a stripped down, cruft-free version of the web. A number of HTML tags aren't allowed and the emphasis is very much on performance. Many have suggested its the new "m" - remember when many websites when down the separate mobile website route?

The Guardian suggests that Google's motives around AMP may not be entirely pure. The arrival of Apple News and Facebook’s Instant Article cut Google out of the advertising loop. Is this simply Google’s attempt to keep up and hold their own?

At Cargo we've had a go at producing an AMP page our self, the results can be seen here:  https://www.cargocreative.co.uk/cargo-blog-amp.html

The experience of putting the page together wasn't dramatically different, a couple of different tags here and there, a bit more inline styling than we are used to or would prefer. We noticed a 90% decrease in requests and a page load that is 3 times faster.

What does this mean going forward?

The early adopters tend to be the big hitters, like the BBC and the Guardian, who already deliver a good mobile experience. Their adoption of AMP pages is likely to see a 20-30% reduction is page loads, which is still an impressive and worthwhile task. Yet, it could cause a greater gap in mobile experience, causing late adopters to lag even further behind. 

While their approval could be gold for AMP, if the main offenders (who are likely to see 80%+ reductions) don't sign up then it could be argued it’s largely a case of preaching to the converted. If they cared about user experience, they would already be doing something about load speed and the joy of AMP may turn into another relic of the web.

Will Google actually get rid of the Chrome functionality and reduce bloat on its web browser? The optimistic among us would say yes but as we saw with last year’s iteration of the Chrome browser, we will have to wait and see.

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