One of the things that I find most disturbing about the advent of all the new mobile and tablet devices we can browse the web on is how this is creating a new skirmish in the browser wars. Only now instead of designers asking (or demanding) that customers switch browsers, they are telling customers to switch devices! It was one thing to be asked to download a new, free browser, but it’s a completely different level of moxie to ask customers to go out and purchase a new multi-hundred dollar device just to view their website!
What Were the Browser Wars
Many years ago now, there were several browsers on the market: Netscape (Mozilla), Internet Explorer, and a bunch of others. These browsers did things very differently from each other, and because of that many designers chose to write browser specific designs and tell their customers:
“This page is best viewed in [their browser of choice].”
Customers were urged to choose the best browser and to ignore all the others. You may think this is no different from today, but it was different because Internet Explorer 9 (and 8 to some extent) are standards compliant, so when you design for IE 9, your pages will work in Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc. But during the era of the browser wars, you had designers building tables in IE and having the table completely disappear in Netscape. It’s one thing to have a design shift a few pixels from your desired outcome, and another to have the contents completely disappear because the browser didn’t like your code.
The browser wars left us with hundreds if not thousands of sites with warnings for IE users that the site wouldn’t work for them. And many of these sites would go farther than just a warning message and would disable the site if you weren’t viewing in the browser they wanted you to.
But Now We Have Standards Compliance and the Browser Wars are Over, Right?
These days, while we might have rendering issues across different browsers, and the support of the most recent specification additions might not be 100%, most designers don’t design just for one browser. This is partly self-preservation. Internet Explorer might have the largest market share, but it’s not the only browser out there. And in fact, according to some measures it’s only got about 1/4 of the market with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari/others each holding onto around 1/4 each as well.
Flash Rears Its Head
These days the browser wars are more like device wars. Flash is supported on Android devices, and not supported on iOS devices. This makes Flash developers annoyed, as it means that if you build a Flash site, you have to create an alternative for iOS customers. There are many reasons to write Flash websites but if you decide to build one, putting up a browser-wars style message telling customers to get a new tablet instead of the iPad they spent $500+ dollars for is a bad idea.
You would be better off putting up a very minimal (1-2 pages perhaps?) version of your site and then explaining that if they want to view the whole site they need to go to your site on a desktop browser. Chances are they have both a computer and an iPad, so you won’t be alienating those users when they are on their mobile devices.
iPad Has a Big Chunk of the Market
While it is always possible that the market share could change, the fact is that iPads dominate the tablet market, and iPhones and iPods take up a good chunk of the mobile phone and devices market too.
It is fair to be angry and frustrated at iOS customers if you’re a Flash developer. But creating a page to tell people to buy a new tablet because you are frustrated is a way to lose customers, not gain Android enthusiasts. In fact, most people who use an iPad or iPhone already know that it doesn’t support Flash. So your message suggesting that they get a new tablet or other device isn’t going to affect the market share of iOS devices. Hopefully it made you feel better, as that’s really all it will do.
My article Don’t Tell Your Readers What Browser to Use applies even more strongly when it comes to telling customers what computer or device they should use.