Startups struggle to keep their sites speedy on PCs, phones, and tablets

graph comparing desktop, iPhone and iPad load times for startup websites

For a startup, a lot is riding on the home page. You might be surprised, then, to learn that startups vary wildly in how quickly and reliably their website home pages load.

That’s especially true when you look at load times on mobile devices. An increasing number of people use smartphones and tablets to browse the web, and yet — for some reason — the mobile versions of many startups’ sites lag far behind their desktop equivalents.

Keynote Systems‘ new Startup Shootout Index provides some insight into the three-screen challenge now facing anyone with a web presence. It’s the first website performance index to measure load times and completion percentages on desktops, smartphones, and tablets simultaneously.

Full story: Startups struggle to keep their sites speedy on PCs, phones, and tablets | VentureBeat.

Startups struggle to keep their sites speedy on PCs, phones, and tablets

What’s wrong with Windows Phone

I’ve been using Windows Phone for several weeks now, first on a Samsung I borrowed from VentureBeat’s CTO Chris Peri and lately on a Nokia Lumia 800 loaned to VentureBeat for review.

I really like the operating system in many ways. The Metro interface is frankly charming, with its flipping tiles and integrated hubs. It’s fast, modern-looking, and integrates apps and data presentation in a way that makes the iPhone and Android look dated. Even the “wait” animation is cute: Instead of a spinning wheel, there are five little dots that zip in from one side, slow down near the middle of the screen, then zip out again. It’s the first time in a long while that I’ve been this smitten with an interface.

Battery life has been impressive on both these phones, and their hardware is good (the Nokia is excellent), with gorgeous screens and excellent cameras.

But there are a few issues that are preventing me from loving Windows Phone. Some of these problems are big enough that they present a serious obstacle to anyone considering a switch. Here’s a quick overview of the issues I’ve run into:

Long lines of tiny type in the Windows Phone browser

Browser text wrapping. This is the big one. On many websites, mobile Internet Explorer doesn’t wrap text properly. It either shows the full column width (in which case the text is too small to read) or lets you zoom in to a readable type size (in which case you can’t read the whole line). In either case, the text is unreadable. Both Android’s and iOS’s browsers handle text wrapping much more elegantly, making them much more usable mobile browsers.

Gmail handling. Another big one for me, as VentureBeat has standardized on Gmail. I can access Gmail from the phone just fine, but I can’t “star” messages for later followup. Since I use my phone for email triage, that’s a problem: I need to be able to review messages, delete the irrelevant ones, respond to the few that need immediate responses, and star important messages for later followup. The Windows Phone mail client has a “flag” status, but it doesn’t sync with Gmail’s stars and I can’t seem to access this status any other way. Another problem: There’s no easy “archive” button: I can only delete messages.

Text wrapping is occasionally a problem in the mail client as well.

Windows Phone Marketplace search for "skype"

Marketplace. It’s obvious that app makers are gaming searches in the app marketplace. The result is that it’s very difficult to find relevant apps. Example: A joke app called “Fart Nukes” shows up in the first few results for almost every search, whether that’s “twitter,” “camera,” “facebook,” “skype,” or “instagram.” (There’s no Instagram app, btw. And I have no idea if there are good photo-editing apps, because I couldn’t find a good equivalent of Camera+ or Hipstamatic.) Another frequent appearance: “Airhorn Ultimate.” It took me several days to find the official Twitter client. Also: There’s no Skype app. That’s just bizarre, given that Microsoft now owns Skype.

Lack of core social features. The “people” hub is nice, in that it lets me see recent Twitter and Facebook updates from anyone in my contact list. Unfortunately, it lacks several key features. For one thing, it doesn’t give me access to the groups or Twitter lists that I really care about, so updates from everyone I’m following drown out those from the few I do want to hear from. I can create my own groups on the phone, but it should sync with the groups I already have. For another thing, there’s no easy way to “like” or retweet items in this stream, making it frustratingly read-only.

CORRECTION: @J4rrod informs me that I’m a joke. In fact, you can “like” or comment on Facebook items, and you can retweet (system retweet, not modified retweet-with-comments) Tweets. However, I don’t think you can repost a Facebook item to your own timeline, and you can’t retweet with comments or favorite a tweet. I stand corrected, partially.

Google Voice. There’s no native Google Voice app, so I can’t easily place calls using my Google Voice number, and I need to use the mobile browser to access voicemails.

Lack of multitasking. Not a major problem in most cases, but it was a noticeable problem twice recently. Once, when the Nokia Drive app was downloading a set of maps, and then when Runkeeper was synchronizing my workout data. In both cases, I had to leave the apps open for the entire duration of the sync operation. If I switched to a different app or to the home screen, it paused the update until I returned to the app. I’m not one of these fanatics who insists on keeping many programs running at the same time, but apps ought to be able to do user-initiated download operations in the background, so that you can continue using your phone during these lengthy processes.

Now, most of these problems are probably easily fixable. It may be that there are user fixes I can implement for each of these, and if so, please let me know! This post is my first attempt to outline these problems and I will happily pass along any fixes I learn about.

However, if I can’t easily figure out the fixes in the first couple of weeks of intensive usage, other people are going to be stymied by these problems too.

My provisional conclusion is that if you use your phone to browse a wide variety of websites, or if you rely on Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or Skype, Windows Phone is not yet quite ready for you.

Other recent news

Speaking of phones, my column this past week talked about how all gadget manufacturers, not just Apple, utilize Chinese factories whose conditions many of us would find appalling:

Dylan’s Desk: You are all to blame for Apple’s factories

It’s not just Apple. Motorola (whose acquisition by Google got a green light this week) and Nokia are doing it. Toshiba, HP, Dell, and Sony all use factories the New York Times reports as “bleak.”

It’s virtually guaranteed that behind every gadget stands an army of underpaid workers and polluting factories.

Your address book is mine: Many iPhone apps take your data

VentureBeat’s Jennifer Van Grove got a hell of a story this week when she dug into the data-handling practices of many iPhone apps, and found evidence that lots of them are uploading users’ entire address books to their servers, often without making that fact clear and sometimes without even encrypting the data. The New York Times cited her story and it even appears to have provoked a reaction from Apple, which announced the next day that it would start enforcing its rule against this kind of behavior.

 

What’s wrong with Windows Phone

Dylan’s Desk: You are all to blame for Apple’s factories

Chinese factory worker

As everyone knows by now, iPhones and iPads are built in huge Chinese manufacturing plants where tens of thousands of people work 12-hour shifts for little money, have little privacy, and are exposed to toxic chemicals and unsafe conditions every day. We’ve been hearing similar stories across other industries for years, but this one’s on us — the tech community.

That’s right — all of us. It’s not just Apple. Motorola (whose acquisition by Google got a green light this week) and Nokia are doing it. Toshiba, HP, Dell, and Sony all use factories the New York Times reports as “bleak.”

It’s virtually guaranteed that behind every gadget stands an army of underpaid workers and polluting factories.

Read the full story: Dylan’s Desk: You are all to blame for Apple’s factories | VentureBeat.

Dylan’s Desk: You are all to blame for Apple’s factories

What it takes to compete with Silicon Valley

This week, my column takes a look at the growth of regional centers of innovation. Although Silicon Valley still creates the most software startups and takes home the lion’s share of venture capital, other cities are growing startup scenes of their own.

Take, for instance, Chicago: Home of Groupon and, in 2011, another 128 new tech companies. One of the major players in the Chicago venture capital scene is wealthy Hyatt heir J.B. Pritzker, whose New World Ventures has funded a large handful of local companies including Zinch, Active.com, Aircell and others. But venture capital alone won’t make a company into a Silicon Valley rival.

I had dinner with Pritzker and a group of venture capitalists and journalists recently, where the conversation focused on what it takes to create regional innovation hubs. According to Pritzker, Chicago’s entrepreneurial scene has taken off in the past few years, and it’s not just thanks to the recent success of Groupon’s initial public offering. It’s not just having a rich guy bankroll things, either, though clearly that helps.

Rather, the VCs at that table agreed, what it takes to create a startup ecosystem–whether that’s in Chicago, New York, Salt Lake City, Detroit, or Boulder–is the presence of serial entrepreneurs. Someone has to take that first leap, start a company, recruit talent, and then stick around long enough to do it again.

Serial entrepreneurs can provide capital, by becoming angel investors or even venture capitalists. Their employees form a base of recruitable talent: people who have worked at startups before and understand that the work is not like a job at an ordinary company. Serial entrepreneurs also provide leadership, by serving as an example and as a magnet for talent: Smart people want to hitch their wagons to a rising star, in other words.

Full story: Dylan’s Desk: What it takes to compete with Silicon Valley | VentureBeat.

In other news at VentureBeat, the staff went out for karaoke last night, as a reward for hitting a traffic milestone I set last fall. Not only did the team hit that milestone, they smashed through it, delivering record traffic several weeks in a row. I had promised them that I would sing a really embarrassing ballad if they did well, and, well, I had to follow through. All I can hope now is that my performance does not wind up on YouTube.

Here are a few other recent stories (not by me) on VentureBeat that I think are particularly good:

Got news? As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can always reach me at dylan@venturebeat.com or dylan@tweney.com, or tip our news team at tips@venturebeat.com.

 

What it takes to compete with Silicon Valley

What you need to know about the Facebook IPO

Facebook filed its paperwork for an initial public offering this week, putting it on track to be the largest tech IPO so far. The company hopes to raise $5 billion with the offering.

At VentureBeat’s offices, the writing staff kicked into high gear and cranked out a series of smart, informed and well-sourced stories on the IPO. Don’t miss Jolie O’Dell’s story about how Mark Zuckerberg has managed to retain overwhelming control of the company he started.

My own contributions included a brief on Facebook’s revenue and another piece on “the hacker way.” Also, I wrote my column this week on Facebook. It appeared the morning of the filing, so it’s missing much of the information that was revealed later in the day, but it’s a good introduction to the basic issues:

The offering will probably raise $10 billion in cash for the company and will value Facebook at somewhere between $75 and $100 billion, making founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds an estimated 24 percent of the company, a billionaire many times over.  (Update: Zuck holds 28.2 percent of the company.) That valuation is not far off the implied valuation of about $80 billion that the company currently has on secondary market Sharespost.

It’ll likely be priced to pop, unlike Zynga’s IPO. In other words, the underwriters will set a share price that’s slightly lower than what they figure the true market valuation will be, so the stock will pop up to its “natural” level on the first day of trading, like an air balloon held underwater and then suddenly released.

But, like a balloon, what happens to Facebook next will depend on many factors.

Read the full story: Dylan’s Desk: 6 things you should know about the Facebook IPO | VentureBeat.

I was also on KQED radio this morning, on Michael Krasny’s “Forum” show, talking about the Facebook IPO. The high point: when someone called in to say how much he liked VentureBeat and that he spent more time reading our site than he spent on Facebook itself. I couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement of what we’ve been doing.

What you need to know about the Facebook IPO