Akamai Diversity

The Akamai UK Blog

Performance optimisation innovations for your Mobile First Strategy

For a few years now the online retail industry as a whole has been talking about a "mobile first" approach to developing and delivering websites and applications. While this is not a new term or focus, it's clear that we have finally reached that threshold where mobile traffic is reaching, or even surpassing, desktop/laptop traffic across Europe.

However, if we look at the European retail industry as an example, despite the growing popularity of mobile devices for discovery, browsing, comparing, and reviewing activities, when it comes to completing their online shopping, shoppers still fall back on their desktop/laptop devices. (see recent survey on European Online Shopping trends)

The truth is that there are challenges associated with delivering exceptional mobile web and app experiences, from faster load and rendering times to easier navigation and better User Experience (at checkout for instance).  Online firms need to ensure digital experiences are optimised for a wide variety of user endpoints, regardless of device and network connectivity.

This mobile first approach on website performance and user experience is specifically relevant in Europe. Traditionally, organisations have focused their efforts on providing great site performance to their local users mainly via browsers on desktops.

But the explosion of mobile and  market globalisation means these same organisations now need to provide that same level of web performance to local users accessing their services mainly via mobile browsers and apps over cellular network connections, as well as a potentially new regional and global audiences.

For many, access to a brand new service or product happens first via a mobile device which means that organisations have only one opportunity to positively impact and retain customers via a great, rich mobile experience.

To help address these challenges and improve mobile performance across the board (web , apps, cellular access), Akamai is raising the innovation bar once more with the latest release of its flagship Web Performance Solution, Akamai Ion, which introduces a new set of advancements in key areas such as mobile performance optimisation, third party content bottlenecks, latest Web technologies and protocols support, and ease of use. With these innovations organisations can better support the ever-increasing focus on 'mobile first' to deliver the high quality mobile and web experiences that users are demanding.

What are some of those key advancements?

For instance, to help mobile browsers render "above the fold" content earlier, Akamai is introducing CSS-related capabilities designed to reduce render time, especially for users accessing mobile sites over cellular connections.

The first one, Edge-CSS brings CSS files at the top of the page during page download and starts to load those files as early as possible, helping the browser begin rendering sooner.

Critical-CSS, another of these enhancements, can accelerate page rendering and improve user-perceived web performance by analysing both the page and the viewport of the end user device, determining the CSS files that are required to render the visible section of the page and prioritising them during page download.

One of the main sources of site performance problems on web and mobile apps is related to third party content. To mitigate some of these issues, a new Preconnect feature has been introduced to help prevent embedded third party URLs from becoming bottlenecks in web page performance. Preconnect expands the scope of DNS Prefetch by establishing connections with embedded third-party hosts before the browser asks for those connections.

An important aspect of any modern web application, browser based or native, is its ability to leverage the latest standards and protocols. HTTP/2, which was implemented as a new web standard in May 2015, is the first new version of the fundamental Web protocol in over 10 years, and the culmination of over three years of industry effort, where Akamai has played a key driving role.

HTTP/2 brings advancements in areas such as multiplexing and concurrency, stream dependencies, compression, and server push, which can help organisations realise a better experience especially for mobile and cellular users on bandwidth constrained networks.

Akamai was the first CDN provider to enable HTTP/2 support on their platform, with customers already realising some of its benefits. (see what customers like Concur have to say about turning-on HTTP/2)

But what if the end users access from an older, non-HTTP/2 enabled browser? With the latest release of Ion, Akamai offers "HTTP/2 aware" Front End Optimization (FEO), which applies the appropriate client-side performance optimisations based on the protocol supported by the specific browser. This is a more than handy feature that will ensure the best performance for each user, automatically, based on whether the user's browser supports HTTP/2 or HTTP/1.x.

A web application is a complex environment, where protocols, javascript, CSS, images, browsers, and other assets coexist to provide the great rich experience users demand. The "need for speed" is here to stay, and the challenges around bringing instant performance regardless of the device, network, and location imply a constant flow of innovation, especially around mobile devices. This is just the beginning...