Chrome Dev Summit 2018 Day 1 Highlights: Better Speed & Usability

Google has officially kicked off its Chrome Dev Summit 2018 web developers event, highlighting a decade of improvements across the board and a series of incoming developments and guidelines to follow that will help make the platform faster and smoother than ever before. Two of the biggest items revealed at this year's summit include the introduction of a new guidance tool intended to help reduce the complexity of web development, called 'web.dev', and an in-browser web design tool called Project Visbug. The first of those was built in collaboration with Glitch and is deeply integrated with Google's Lighthouse tools. The latter of those incorporations means that rather than working as a more general guide to building fast, smooth experiences, web.dev can give developers an overview and details about the performance of their own website via personalized audits. That's coupled with comprehensive walkthroughs for the latest innovations in web development to ensure that sites can be built with each applicable best-practice being followed as well as a real-time code reworking and testing environment.

The second of those developments, Project Visbug, is an extension-based experiment that centers around the other side of the equation - namely, design. That allows developers to quickly explore the styles in use on their site, experiment with different color layouts, change moving elements, and more directly inside the browser itself. It also allows multiple elements such as images and text to be selected all at once and resized, replaced, or deleted. In effect, the tool means that changes to specific elements, multiple designs or layouts, or even a complete aesthetic overhaul can be test-viewed without having to load up heavier, more resource-intensive tools. Beyond those larger changes, Google also hinted at up-coming platform APIs, including as Worklets, Virtual Scroller, and a 'new scheduler' that will be highlighted during Day 2 of the summit and the practice of using 'Performance Budgets' to build and keep sites fast. The latter of those is effectively the practice of setting standards for loading metrics and file sizes that place user experience first regardless of the device being used to access a site.

Last but not least, the company discussed the rising use of progressive web apps, with support arriving for Windows in Chrome 70 and Mac support scheduled for Chrome 72. Linux doesn't appear to have a set timeline just yet but is said to still be in the works as well. WASM and service workers have already enabled web experiences that act much more like applications than websites, with more support for offline experiences or situations where the quality of networking is just poor. Moving forward, the company wants to ensure that Chrome supports capabilities that are more closely related to the hardware a user is accessing a site from. For example, although PWAs act similarly to applications, they don't have access to file systems, idle detection, or other native features or capabilities. The goal is to keep web experiences progressing toward smoother and faster experiences while simultaneously closing the gap between native apps and web apps.

Background: Of course, Google hasn't necessarily been slacking off in the lead-up to this year's Chrome Dev Summit. Looking past the abovementioned PWAs to more devices, enabling web pages to be downloaded and used in a way that's closer to natively installed software, the search giant has released a number of APIs and updates to make Chrome more responsive and more secure. Chrome 71, for example, is currently in Beta and introduces is set to deliver a new Fullscreen API and on-screen navigation hiding for more immersive end-user experiences. That's in addition to changes that further separate touchpad events that will improve scrolling, zooming, and other control wheel events when users are on a laptop or other device with a touchpad. It also removes autoplay features on audio and video, which may help sites load faster alongside service worker changes that were also recently introduced but will certainly make the experience less jarring for users. On the security side of things, the most recent developments in the next release of Chrome have included measures to automatically protect users from sites that frequently serve up abusive ads and new warnings for pages that load up misleading or incomplete subscription sign-ups.

Impact: Summarily, each of the incoming changes, experiments, and developments should add up to a much better experience for end users. However, the best practices, tools, and APIs will also serve developers, making it much easier to create a great experience, to begin with. The underlying theme, at least for day one of the Chrome Dev Summit, appears to be enabling just that, regardless of what platform the users are on or where the pages are being designed and built out.

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