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Browser screen resolution stats rile devs

StatCounter has announced that its statistics show 1024-by-768 has fallen as the most popular screen resolution, surpassed by 1366-by-768.

The company painted this as a milestone, and CEO Aodhan Cullen remarked: “The data reflects a continuing trend of users moving to larger screen resolution sizes. The screen resolution size people are using is a critical factor for developers when it comes to web design, particularly in the case of fixed-width web pages.”

Those in the industry weren’t impressed by this statement. “This stupidity is right up there with Jakob Nielsen's recent rantings about everyone needing three versions of their website. I don't mean to offend these ‘experts’ but they're full of shit,” blasted Happy Cog founder Jeffrey Zeldman. “The most popular size is every size. If you're not thinking in a mobile-first, content-first way, if you're not planning an adaptive or responsive redesign, if you still think we have a standard canvas that ‘everybody’ uses, and if you can't feel the hot breath of mobile singeing the hairs on the back of your neck, you don't deserve to be a designer, or a consultant, or whatever these people think they are.”

Directional information

Designer and speaker Elliot Jay Stocks echoed Zeldman, and told us StatCounter’s report “matters very little in the world of responsive web design (RWD),” adding: “Only designers and developers building fixed-width sites need concern themselves with these figures – and frankly they should be more concerned that they're still building fixed-width sites!” However, software architect Chris Eppstein was a little more charitable: “I'm not sure we should all be working with RWD, because each app and user base is different. And in that respect, so are device profiles for those users. Also, RWD is extra cost, and so if you are developing on a budget, you might decide to focus on a single-width design, or, if you're like me, several fixed-width designs.”

On StatCounter specifically, Eppstein remarked that the report meant little: “It's just directional information. There are still a significant number of users with smaller screens – too many to not design for them.” However, he nonetheless considered the general trend interesting: “As screens get wider, we'll reach a point where users will prefer to have windows side-by-side, and so the available screen resolution for a given web page may actually go down at that point. In any respect, content should inform your RWD breakpoints more than screen resolutions.”

Understanding browser figures

Freelance front-end designer and developer Stuart Robson also told us there were interesting take-aways from the figures. “With screen resolutions statistically getting bigger, we must start to think of our responsive designs not just for smaller viewports like a mobile phone or tablet but also for the possibility of being 'bigger' than what we're – rightly or wrongly – considering a 'desktop version’.”

The specific figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, though, argued Robson: “We must remember screen resolution does not mean browser viewport size – although a user’s screen is 1366-by-768, the browser may be less.”

Mozilla developer evangelist Christian Heilmann found similar flaws in the StatCounter report: “News like this is a bit of an anachronism – with media queries and other advanced layout techniques, we’re no longer slaves to resolution. And I’m wary of these ‘facts’, because they’re desktop-only stats on resolutions, not available space – you cannot expect people to run browsers full-screen.”

Heilmann told us he’s happy we must now consider many use-cases for web products, and device variance provides the best argument against fixed-size layouts. “So I give this report a solid ‘meh’, because you can’t rely on the facts, nor do they really matter. Instead, test for space, then show more content, but don't use stats that are not yours and risk people having to scroll or zoom.”