I could make a list of the benefits of working for a product company, but let’s cut to the chase: access to data over time tops my list. Data—once analyzed and interpreted—can inform decision-making at all levels of the organization: strategy, marketing, design, development. In my experience, it’s been a rare occasion where I’ve had access to this sort of data in a client services setting.
Twice in the last three months I’ve spent an afternoon digging into our traffic data collected with Google Analytics (GA), specifically looking at devices, operating systems, and browsers. I set out to gain a better understanding of the technology our customers use and, in turn, use the data to make some decisions about how we design and build our products.
Let’s first take a look at some stats from the end of last year.
We long ago had our mobile moment, so it was no surprise that 59% of our traffic came from what GA classifies as “mobile” devices. I’m generally not a fan of this distinction since the term “mobile” generally carries a lot of assumptions around device size, interaction modes, user intention, and browsing environment. But… for our purposes here, “mobile” amounts to devices that aren’t laptops or traditional desktop computers.
Of the 59% of our traffic classified as mobile, Apple’s iPhone (57%) and iPad (13%) carried the day. Samsung device identification makes collecting device-specific stats difficult, but with a little work I was able to determine that the Galaxy S5, Galaxy S6, and Galaxy Note 4 accounted for 5%, 4%, and just over 1% of mobile traffic, respectively. Beyond that, we quickly get into the very long tail of devices accessing our site. (If you’re curious about the abundance of viewport sizes out there, check out viewportsizes.com).
On the Windows side of things, we had quite the browser party going. The following table lists browsers with greater than 1% of total visits. Values in the percentage column are relative to overall website traffic.
Seeing the then-current version of Google Chrome at the top of the list wasn’t much of a surprise. Internet Explorer (IE) 11’s second-place finish was slightly surprising, though, and the continued presence of IE 9 and 10 made this front-end developer’s soul hurt just a little bit.
At the end of last year, Internet Explorer accounted for 11% of our traffic and the overwhelming majority of that traffic was IE 11 coming from three different versions of Windows: 7, 8.1, and 10. Yeesh.
But Internet Explorer’s a dead browser, right?
While it’s true that Microsoft discontinued Internet Explorer in favor of its successor Edge, it’s equally true that discontinuing development of a browser has little impact on usage of that browser. Amongst LivingSocial customers, at least, we’ve recorded very low adoption (~1.25% of overall website traffic) of the newer—and perfectly capable—Edge browser.
Jumping ahead to the here-and-now…
Looking at data across the last thirty days revealed that mobile devices now account for 61% of overall website traffic, up from 59% three months ago. iOS and versions of Windows continue to account for 42% and 32% of traffic by platform, respectively.
Three months ago, the latest version of Chrome (46) accounted for 13% of overall website traffic. Today, Chrome 48 (the current version) accounts for 13% of overall website traffic. While there’s no percentage change in Chrome usage, that our customers using Chrome tend to run the most up-to-date version is good news.
Internet Explorer 11’s aging talons maintained their firm grasp on 8% of overall traffic while all versions of Edge (12 up through the just-released 14) gained some minor ground in the last ninety days.
That Windows browser rager we were throwing for New Year’s? Things have changed.
Keep in mind the browsers listed above are only those browsers that charted greater than 1% of overall website traffic in the dataset. While current versions of Chrome and Firefox top the charts alongside IE 11 just as they did three months ago, long gone are IEs 9 and 10. Throw in the current-minus-one version of Edge and a random version of Chrome (43) and you’ve got a reasonably calm dinner party on Windows.
The Path Forward
What useful information can we glean given the above data?
Our Mobile Future
As mobile traffic continues consuming a larger share of our overall traffic, our design process should similarly shift from developing and maintaining unique “mobile” and “desktop” designs to a singular, mobile-first responsive design philosophy. A unified front-end, built with a focus on accessibility and performance, would result in a better experience for our customers and a more maintainable code base for our engineering team.
Support vs. Optimization
Using techniques like progressive enhancement (e.g. cutting the mustard), we can build future-friendly products optimized for modern Web browsers and devices while also delivering a usable baseline experience to customers on older browsers. Brad Frost draws the distinction between support and optimization, calling for more consideration on the part of front-end developers:
On that point, the above data indicates that we should optimize for current versions of Safari on iOS, Internet Explorer 11 (and current versions of Edge) on Windows, and current versions of Chrome and Firefox across all platforms. That’s a pretty awesome browser matrix. For largely historical reasons, our current front-end code tends to optimize for IE 8 in many places, but a quick scroll through this caniuse.com comparison of IE8–11 shows just how much has IE has improved since version 8’s 2009 release.
A Modern Baseline
With IE11 as our optimization baseline in 2016, we’ve opened the doors to many modern Web technologies: flexbox and all ES5 language features, for instance. Pushing even further, we could take advantage of cutting edge features like responsive images (the
<picture> element and
srcset attribute), Promises, and Service Workers to deliver an improved user experience.
As we continue building and iterating on new products like Restaurants Plus, I’m excited to help our teams push our design process and development approach forward and deliver accessible, high-performance, and beautiful products for our customers.