Here comes 'Desktopgeddon'

Forget about 'Mobilegeddon' -- the end of desktop Web supremacy is upon us

smartphones tablet mobile devices

You don't hear much about the so-called "Mobilegeddon" anymore. On April 21, Google changed its search engine to prefer sites deemed "mobile-friendly." In the aftermath, reports (including one from Adobe Systems) found that non-mobile-friendly sites suffered a 12% drop in traffic after the change.

Google's April move made sense. That was around the time ComScore said the number of people exclusively accessing the Internet on smartphones became higher than the number accessing it exclusively via desktop computers.

Google's highly publicized change was a reaction to the undeniable rise of the mobile Web, and the fact that far too many sites weren't adjusting for the new mobile world.

The whole event led some to conclude that, on the whole, the desktop Web is better than the mobile Web because so many sites had failed to optimize for mobile. While that's true statistically in terms of the outright number of sites, it's not true for the most popular sites and it's not true statistically in terms of site visits. (The laggards in mobile-friendliness tend to be low-traffic sites that are visited by each user less often.)

While the public believes the desktop Internet is better, in reality the opposite is now true -- and it's getting truer all the time.

The mobile version of the Internet has become far superior for the top sites, which now treat the version of the Internet you can access on a desktop Web browser as an afterthought, hardly worthy of their time and attention.

For starters, an increasing number of startups are launching Internet-based services that are accessible only through a mobile app. They include financial services like the UK's Atom Bank, games like Pokemon Go, the clothing marketplace Poshmark and sites like the ticket-buying service Gametime. Even The Weather Channel is launching a mobile-only weather show called The Lift, hosted by NBC anchor Al Roker. Verizon's ad-supported video service, Go90 -- which offers sports, TV shows and YouTube-like videos -- is mobile only.

A related phenomenon is that some apps that were always mobile-only have grown in usage and importance. The best example is Snapchat, which might be the biggest threat to Facebook and Twitter for users under the age of 25.

The bigger trend, however, is that high-traffic mainstream Internet-based services are increasingly introducing new features that you can get only on a mobile device.

Spotify's brand new beat-matching Spotify Party feature, which delivers playlists like a DJ, isn't available on the Web or via the desktop download. It's mobile-only.

Yahoo's Tumblr added a GIF maker feature last month, but only for its iOS app.

Google thoroughly blurred the line last month between the mobile Web and the world of apps. It launched a new feature in Google Search on Android that indexes content formerly locked inside Android apps. When you select one of these results, Google will actually run a cloud-hosted version of the app in a browser and display the data natively. Because you haven't actually installed the app on your phone, what you're viewing is technically streaming from the Web, but for mobile -- and, specifically, Android -- phones only. Apps are included by permission only, and so far Google is streaming apps from HotelTonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope and New York Subway.

Over time, we can expect hundreds or thousands of participating apps. That's a lot of data, and none of it is available via desktop searches.

You may also have heard about Facebook's and Google's schemes to radically speed up the Web. Facebook rolled out a system on iOS in May called Instant Articles, then released it on Android last week. Instant Articles lets publishers host their content with Facebook. The result is that when Facebook users see an Instant Articles-supporting story in their newsfeeds, tapping on it loads it instantly, rather than the old process of slowly launching a browser and having the browser launch the article.

I've found that while using Instant Articles on my iPhone, the articles truly are "instant," and load in a fraction of a second -- far faster than the same articles on the desktop. Facebook has already signed up more than 350 publishers.

Google launched an even more ambitious plan, which it calls Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, and which changes the way the Internet works for sites that support it. AMP replaces standard HTML with a modified version of it. The AMP version of HTML bans JavaScript and replaces many common HTML tags with AMP tags that load standard, universally used variants. Early estimates say that AMP pages load four times faster. And because Google Search favors better performing sites, AMP-supporting pages will rank better in Google Search results.

When Facebook and Google promote these initiatives, they talk about helping users with slow data connections or phones that don't perform well. But users with fast connections and fast phones get a major boost, too. For most of the people reading this article, using the mobile Web will become significantly faster than using the desktop Web -- because Instant Articles and AMP work only on mobile devices.

For all of those reasons, we're smack dab in the middle of a full-blown "Desktopgeddon," where the experience and quality of using the Internet from a desktop computer or laptop is being totally eclipsed by a vastly superior mobile experience.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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