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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

All Web Developers Should Stop Doing This Immediately

Why do websites insist on treating tablets like second class citizens?

  • February 15, 2012

A friend sends me a link to a 60 Minutes segment she feels it’s important I watch. I’m on an iPad—not that it matters, because it’s just as much a PC as  the overgrown microcomputers that go by that name—and clicking on the link lands me here:

Why, God? Why?

And that is it. That is literally the end of my interaction with this site, because my only option is to download the iPad app. There is no alternative—no way to click through to the video or text that I was after. And you know what? I’m not going to download your stupid app. Because I am not at home on my own wifi, and that would be an anti-social use of public bandwidth, not to mention the fact that this connection isn’t so great, so it would probably take, for all I know, half an hour.

More importantly: Why do so many Web developers think that tablets are an excuse to break the functionality of the Web? Anyone who does this, even if it’s just an interstitial ad for a tablet app, should be forced to put the following disclaimer at the top of their tablet-detecting sites:

ATTENTION USER: We know you were enjoying the frictionless access to content that is the implicit promise of a hyperlink, but we would rather you bounce off the outer berm of our walled garden, because ad rates are higher on our tablet apps or something? All we know is, somebody on the 13th floor needs to show steady growth in “engagement” on “post-PC” devices.

It feels like vandalism. This is what hackers do. So why are companies defacing their own sites? Is it really so hard to understand that the browser on a tablet device is in all important respects the equal of the browser on a laptop, and, depending on the machine, in many cases superior?

I know it’s petty to rant about this sort of thing when the larger story—the death of the open Web—is the greater threat to the free exchange of information. But this particular manifestation of it—cravenly commercial and stubbornly immune to the most basic tenets of usability—is in some respects one of its most visible expressions.

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