Websites have evolved greatly over the past few years. Once text-heavy websites have become more eye-catching with prominent images and video. But the addition of richer media isn’t the only change impacting websites.
Consumer behavior also factors into this evolution, as web access has moved from the desktop realm to a variety of different devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches and TVs – with different dimensions and resolutions. And consumers want to be able to access web content anytime and from any location.
In 2016 and beyond, developers will need to address many challenges to ensure that website performance is optimized, bandwidth usage is minimized and users have a top-notch experience. Here is a look at three major media-related challenges, and what developers can do to address them:
High Resolution Images and Videos
The old adage states that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so it’s no surprise that website owners are using images and videos as powerful tools on their websites to engage visitors. High-resolution images look best, but these files are so big that they cause websites to load slow and use excessive bandwidth. These problems frustrate visitors, and potentially give them incentive to not engage further on the website.
The High-Res Image on the NatureValleyTrailView.com homepage.
Whether your users are visiting your site from a phone or a computer, it’s imperative that it loads quickly. Gabriel A. Mays, founder of Just Add Content, a website platform for businesses, told CIO magazine that developers should “Aim to keep website load time to [a few] seconds or less. Your biggest threat isn’t a competitor, it’s the back button. If your website loads too slowly, customers won’t wait around. They’ll go elsewhere.”
Generally, to address these issues, developers must:
- Resize images/videos to match device resolution – One size doesn’t fit all, particularly with the increasing number of devices of different sizes being adopted by consumers.
- Leverage modern image formats or video codecs – For images, consider using WebP, with automatic fallback to other formats, like JPEG, for browsers that don’t support newer formats. With video, consider the codecs, frame rate and bit rate to save file size and bandwidth.
- Adjust the quality level – There is a tradeoff between compression levels and visual quality to ensure a satisfactory user experience without excessive bandwidth use.
Developers also must stay on top of the trends relating to new types of images and how to best display them on their websites. For example, Apple introduced Live Photo, kind of a hybrid between a static image and video, combining a photo with other moments before and after it was taken, and displays them with movement and sound.
Developers will need to know how best to support uploading, transforming and displaying these new forms of content in a way that is not bandwidth or storage intensive, and is visually appealing regardless of device on which it is viewed.
Greater Use of Video – Upstream and Downstream
It’s undeniable that video is becoming a primary component on the web – from the website owners that are using on their sites to attract visitors, to the videos being uploaded by users. Consider this: Every second, nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the network by 2019, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index. With that quantity, it would take an individual more than 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month.
As users upload greater quantities of videos, developers are going to be tasked with taking videos of various qualities, dimensions and aspect ratios and making them fit into the design of their site or mobile app.
But it’s not just the number of minutes of video being uploaded, it’s the resolution. Today’s devices are made to handle high resolution video, and as a result 4K video is increasing in popularity. But the huge resolution translates into long upload and download times; need for increased storage space; and intensive processing related to converting, resizing and manipulating these videos.
Developers will need to normalize and optimize 4K and high-res video specifically for web and mobile devices, and leverage responsive technology that will enable them to deliver the smallest file size while still maintaining the highest visual quality to match the user’s device, browser and network speed.
Developers wrangle with several challenges related to ensuring images and videos look and operate properly on the plethora of devices in use today and at various resolutions. The de facto standard for addressing these challenges is responsive web design, which enables the same website to adapt to different resolutions. As a result, developers need to explore how to effectively use responsive design techniques.
Google, as well as standards organization W3C, Microsoft and Apple, are trying to simplify responsive design with solutions built into web browsers. But these aren’t sufficient. For example, the Client Hints solution being promoted by Google is only supported in Chrome, so additional work is required to ensure your images are displayed properly on other browsers.
Others relying on the new new HTML5 features – specifically the
<picture> element and the
srcset attribute of the
<img> element – to define the various image resolutions and art-directed cropped and manipulated image versions within the HTML code.
There are two problems with this approach. First, not all browsers support the modern HTML5 features, so developers are forced to use fallback mechanisms for browsers that don’t.
And second, while the browsers automatically select the best matching images for each device and resolution, the browser doesn’t automatically create the images. The developers need to work harder in pre-creating all different image versions or use a dynamic image manipulation service.
However, these solutions do not focus on finding the appropriate breakpoints, which is critical for images.
A Strong Start
The evolution of video and image formats, coupled with constant innovation in devices and displays, will continue to challenge web designers and developers, as they seek to create a superb user experience while minimizing the impact on bandwidth, storage and website performance.
Effectively managing high resolution files, adeptly handling the growing amount of video both incorporated in designs and uploaded by users, and incorporating responsive design techniques as described above can help developers address some of the challenges they are facing today, and establish a good foundation for future best practices.
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