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Happy New Year! 2014 is a fresh start for the web and developers everywhere. My 2013 predictions were reasonably accurate so let’s see if I can communicate with the spirits (it’s always easier after a few whiskeys…)

1. 2014 is the year of the smart phone

Yes, you and your friends have the latest Apple or Android phone. However, sales of smart phones only started to exceed those of feature phones during the middle of 2013 and they’re experiencing massive growth in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe.

It’s long been predicted that phone-based web use will eventually exceed desktops. I’m not wholly convinced since people tend to use more web sites and applications for longer when they’re on a PC. Mobile access currently accounts for one in five web visits — by the end of 2014 it will exceed one in four.

2. HTML5 web apps will go mainstream

An increasing number of native mobile app developers will switch to HTML5. The reasons include:

  • HTML5 apps are cross-platform and (should be) cheaper to develop.
  • Responsive Web Design techniques allow us to target multiple devices with different screen sizes.
  • The technology is improving rapidly and we now have access to native functionality such as offline capabilities, camera, microphone, sound, accelerometer, geo-location, vibration, battery and more.
  • There are no bizarre policy restrictions or extortionate charges imposed by an app store.

HTML5 won’t overtake native apps — fast action games or programs with app store-dependent revenue models will still be produced. But the benefits of HTML5 will become increasingly clear.

I also hope to see W3C-Recommended packaged web app standard and perhaps an official store, but 2014 is a little too soon for vendor agreement.

3. Client-side Flash, Silverlight and Java will die

Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but the three most-used browser plug-ins will largely become irrelevant as developers switch to HTML5. The advertising industry will continue to use Flash for a little while longer but click-throughs and revenues will fall as mobile access increases.

4. IE12 will be released

OK, this is an easy win. The development time between subsequent versions of IE has dropped dramatically over the years to around twelve months. I would expect IE12 to appear in October but hope Microsoft can deliver earlier — there are fewer essential features to add.

5. The browser market will be dominated by IE and Chrome

The desktop browser market has become a two-horse race between IE and Chrome. When one gains, the other loses ground.

Firefox may drop a little, but should remain above 15% throughout the year. Safari will hold steady at a little under 10%. It’s (somewhat artificially) propped up by the success of the iPad, but the devices will remain popular during 2014. As for Opera…

6. Opera usage will fall

Opera (desktop edition) usage has been hovering around 1.2% market share for many years. The switch to Google’s Blink rendering engine was a sound business decision, although I’m slightly surprised they didn’t choose Webkit — that could have permitted a better presence on the iPhone.

Unfortunately, Opera 15+ has disappointed Opera users and two thirds are yet to upgrade from version 12. It’s a good browser but doesn’t have the features which attracted people to the previous editions. Unless Opera can restore that functionality, their browser is too similar to Chrome. Why use it?

Opera Mobile is the best feature phone browser but, as mentioned, sales are falling. It’ll remain popular for a little longer but the desktop version’s market share will fall below 1% at some point during 2014. Whether it can recover will depend on the company’s ability to differentiate the browser.

7. Microsoft will abandon or re-brand Windows RT

Microsoft has a history of confusing the market. Few people understand the difference between Windows RT and Windows or a Surface and Surface Pro — how do non-technical buyers cope?

Windows RT is a good tablet OS but it’s not Windows. The Surface tablets have received generally good reviews but sales have been disappointing. I suspect Microsoft will make another revision and perhaps drop the ‘Windows’ name from their tablet range.

8. A responsive image standard won’t be available!

I’m hoping to be proved wrong, but I doubt a usable responsive image technology will become available in 2014. There’s still disagreement about the best way forward, the proposed srcset is ugly and there’s little hope all vendors will implement a standard solution before the end of the year.

The problem may eventually disappear. When every device has a Retina-like high-density display, it may be practical to serve a single image. But we’re not there yet and bandwidth limitations are a major restriction. Talking of which…

9. Page weight will steady or drop

The year-on-year 30%+ increase in page weight is ridiculous. You may care, but few developers worry when their pages exceed 1.7Mb. And that’s an average — half of all websites have a greater total.

I hope we’ve reached the summit of stupidity. The reasons:

  1. There are only so many frivolous fonts, widgets, libraries and images you can add to a page.
  2. HTML5 and better browsers should result in slimmer pages. CSS3 and consistent APIs lessen the need for JavaScript libraries. Webfont icons and SVGs can be a better option than numerous bitmap images.
  3. Advertisers are switching from Flash to lightweight HTML5 and CSS3.
  4. Automated build processes can remove redundant code then concatenate and minify files.
  5. Obese pages have a negative impact on your SEO efforts.
  6. The expanding mobile sector has stricter processing and bandwidth limits. It will improve, but not at the rate pages are growing. (Admittedly, 30% per year is lower than Moore’s law but that doesn’t apply to mobile network capacities). Will clients be happy when they realize one in four web users aren’t waiting to view their overweight home page?

That said, perhaps website importance will diminish…

10. A renewed interest in machine-readable data feeds

In my recent article The Rise of Web Bots and Fall in Human Traffic I discussed a future where intelligent bots collate and repackage information for easier consumption. The growth of small-screen computing devices and hardware such as Google glasses makes this increasingly likely.

Machine-readable data feeds, microdata, microformats and REST URLs have always been practical SEO techniques but they’re rarely adopted outside search engines. That will change as devices start to present information in more interesting ways. In essence, the web could become a massive back-end database for systems which can answer complex questions. Of course, it can still be browsed like we do today but there would be less reason to visit individual sites.

2014 is possibly too ambitious but it could mark the start of a new phase in web development.

All the best for the New Year!

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