Making the Mobile Web Faster

Published on by Anton Dahlström

For quite some time, I have been annoyed about the extremely slow browsing speeds of the mobile web. You probably know the feeling: the page shows quite quickly, but the loading indicator doesn’t seem to want to finish until about a minute or so later.  Meanwhile, the browser is very unresponsive and often refreshes the screen and looses the location on the page. On desktop, on the other hand, everything works lightning fast – as it should.

So, what is the issue then? Well, I believe it to be mainly one thing: JavaScript.

JavaScript allows a lot of the wonderful functionality that we associate the web with today. Without JS, a website would be quite bland, without much in the way of interactive capabilities. There is also a seemingly endless supply of JS libraries that can be utilised to do some quite wacky and amazing things. However, JS also enables the website owner to track how we move through the internet. This has become a problem.

Currently, a lot of the data that gets loaded on a given website is megabytes upon megabytes of JavaScript code. This post explains the details of why this is bad and why organisations are doing it (answers: “because it makes everything super slow” and “mostly because of advertisement”).

How then to improve on the situation? Simple: disable JavaScript in your mobile browser. Agreed, this is quite a drastic measure, but the benefits are obvious; at least to me. I tried the built in reader-mode in Firefox’s Android browser for a while, and while reading the page is a lot better through that view, with a less stuttering an better™ layout, the loading times are still dramatic: the page has to be fully loaded before the icon shows up in the address bar. Although, disabling JavaScript altogether just makes everything so much more responsive.

Of course, disabling JS has its drawbacks; mainly that there are features – features with utility, that is – of sites which breaks in the process. Although this might be an issue for some users, I don’t experience it as a huge disadvantage. I have noticed that I could live without JS most of the time when browsing on my phone, as my main internet consumption is reading articles. Incidentally, sites which are built around interactive content often have native applications available, which perform better than running them through the browser anyway.

It is quite bizarre that JavaScript has been (ab-)used to such an extent that mobile browsing is essentially broken. But hey, at least there is a setting to fix that.

Categories: Computers, Opinions

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