From the Front Lines at eTail 2014, It's the Year of the Responsive Website, Maybe


I’ve been at the eTail West conference this week talking with some of the biggest online retailers in the world and attending some really interesting panels, sessions, and mini-summits lead by these same people.

One of the really interesting themes this year across the board has been the debates around how to best handle the ever-increasing device diversity. This is really a particular concern with all the various screen sizes popping up with smartphones, phablets, and tablets. It seems like every month the hardware vendors are coming up with a new screen size and resolution to torment the poor web developers of the world. And it's driving people nuts!

At the show there have been plenty of debates about the right approach to handling the device diversity problem and it seems there are essentially two camps. The first argues for dedicated smartphone sites and then optimizing your desktop site for tablets. The second camp is pushing the idea of responsive websites that will adapt and deal with all the various screen sizes automatically.

Responsive sites sounds like a great solution for sure and it seems like many are thinking about going responsive. What’s been interesting is hearing the stories from the early adopters in the responsive website camp. I heard a number of war stories about people having to spend a good chunk of time tweaking their responsive sites for the 20% of devices that don’t play nice or the old browsers like IE8 that just refuse to go away. And then a lot of interesting discussions about the performance impact of responsive and the right and wrong ways to do a responsive website. One balanced approach I heard was sticking with a dedicated desktop site, but building a responsive site for smartphones and phablets which seem to have the greatest diversity of screen sizes right now.

My personal takeaway is that responsive website design looks like a good solution for the device diversity problem that just seems like its going to continue to get worse as every vendor tries to fill in missing screen sizes, but it's still in the early days. I think for responsive to really take off, the ecosystem needs to evolve and provide more tools and services to abstract out the device-specific issues, allow for great performance, and shift some of the decisions currently being made on the client side to the cloud, like sending device-optimized HTML, CSS, and images.

From the Instart Logic side we are continuing to invest in capabilities that can let people build high performance sites, be they dedicated mobile/desktop or responsive. If you are going down the responsive path and looking for some tips on doing it with performance, we did a webinar recently on the topic.