The Veteran’s Charge

Published 16 years, 9 months past

“This page best viewed in…”

If that phrase doesn’t provoke a shudder of horror and loathing, it should.  It’s the battle cry of the Browser Wars, those terrible and ultimately futile years at the end of the last milennium.  It’s the rallying cry of those who would take the open ubiquity of the web and fragment it into a collection of gated communities, where entrance to each is predicated on running a specific browser.

“Your browser is not compatible and must be upgraded…”

All too often, because developers are too fearful or prideful or just plain lazy, they put up unnecessary barriers to entrance.  They prevent people from using their sites based on choice of browser.  Of course there are situations where the experience will be different—nobody expects Netscape 4 users to be able to see all 2007’s pretty CSS effects, just like table-based sites look beyond bizarre in Mosaic.  That’s no excuse for sites that intentionally lock users out just because their choice of browser doesn’t line up with the developer’s expectations.  It’s regressive, short-sighted, and just plain unprofessional.

“This site is for iPhone users only.”

STOP IT.  Stop it right now.

The fact that optimizing pages for an iPhone makes the development of such specialized pages attractive in no way excuses lockout of other users.  I might be willing to entertain the argument if the iPhone’s browser were some specialized non-web contraption.  It’s not.  It’s a full-fledged XHTML+CSS+DOM browser that happens to lag a bit in some implementation areas and won’t run some plugins.

Besides, if you’ve developed a version of your site (or application or whatever) that works well on the iPhone, then why in the name of Tim Berners-Lee would you deny other people that optimized experience?  You might find that they prefer to interact with the site that way no matter what platform they’re using.  You might find that you don’t need a separate iPhone version after all.  The iPhoned version might be the only version you need.

Designers will argue that pages optimized for the iPhone screen will look bad on a desktop browser.  Maybe, and maybe not, but stop preventing your users from making that decision for themselves.  Nobody says you have to convert your whole site to be iPhoney.  But your lockout of non-iPhone users is worse than rude.  It’s stupid.

We finally learned, after much sweat and a fair number of tears, that “best viewed in” is a fool’s errand.  Are we so eager to rush back into that morass and fight the war all over again?

Please.  Just stop.

Comments (89)

  1. Amen Eric. Amen.

  2. Thank you, Eric!

  3. And Apple are doing it too.

    They’ve got some rubbish browser sniffing going on, so that if you’re using any other variant of Gecko than Firefox (eg. Camino), you’re going to get redirected.

    if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“Firefox”) != -1)

    Well done Apple!

  4. This comment is for iPhone users only.

  5. This is the kind of article I point clients at when they request browser specific features. You win again Eric.

  6. Meyer–

    I can appreciate your sentiments. I am not so sure that making any adjustments to accommodate any specific browser makes a lot of sense. Personally, I flat out refuse to use any targeted style sheets for any specific browser, e.g. no conditional comments to support IE – None. To do so, in my view, is enabling people to continue to use a browser that poses some significant security risks. If content that is coded to standards compliance is not good enough, to hell with the client. I will and have refused the business and/or resigned the account. In that vein, I believe content developers have an obligation to inform users, in some manner, to security risks and that includes the “your browser should be upgraded” notice. The same applies to Adobe Flash plug-ins. What the user chooses to do is up to them. If my methods and logic are considered by some developers to be unprofessional, I may give that some thought after I gnaw off my leg. Until then, I stand firm [on two legs].

  7. I can only agree: I’m using bloglines as RSS reader. And since they released for the iPhone, this is what I’m using mostly on the desktop (I’m in Europe anyway, so no iPhone) but also on the Blakberry. It’s so much faster than the standard version that it would be a shame to see it blocked.

  8. Hear, hear.

  9. Thacker –
    The principles you stand for are admirable yet remarkably impractical. Turning down business because a client wants their site to work in older versions in IE is just plain ol’ bad business. If you don’t want their business please send them my way. Surely there are worse things than conditional comments. How about 3400 character long viewstates and legacy Meta tags for instance?

    Eric –
    Thank you for saying it. When I started seeing the “iPhone only” sites pop up I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy.

  10. I think part of the problem is that Apple, in not releasing an SDK, has blurred the line between applications, web apps, and websites. So people who want their web app to have the look-and-feel of a native iphone application must necessarily either provide an alternate URI (or sniff the UA) in order to serve the images and javascript to produce the magic.

    Is an iphone-specific Digg page a “Web app?” Not in my book. but maybe it is to the digg folks. Or maybe the iphone skin is just so trendy that developers everywhere are justifying their experiments by Apple’s acknolwedgement that HTML/CSS/JS is the official iphone SDK.

  11. Eesh. That whole Firefox/Camino thing hacks me off. It’s the worst of the worst. It’s browser-sniffing, with the added stupidity of not knowing much about browsers.

  12. And you would have thought that the release of a fully fledged web browser for the mobile phone would do away with the idea of a separate site for mobile users, not rekindle this sort of sniffing.

    I hope the iPhone site developers take heed.

  13. Trackback ::

    Effair (

    Stop it…

    Eric Meyer est contre les sites web conçus uniquement pour le iPhone en les comparant aux sites web “optimisés” (lire: ne fonctionnant que) pour tel ou tel navigateur, à la fin des années 90.

    Cela fait du bien de voir u…

  14. I’d thought we’d banished those type of phrases once and for all. I guess it’s a case of the “shiny new toy” syndrome creeping in.

    Good call Eric.

  15. /*
    @Alex Robinson
    Apple has a warning page. It uses the following language:

    “We recommend the following browsers.
    For the best experience with .Mac Web Gallery, we recommend:”

    The default button is “Use Current Bowser,” this hardly matches the degree of exclusion inherent in “This site is for iPhone users only.”

    I think that the Apple page matches the spirit of Eric’s argument: “… stop preventing your users from making that decision for themselves”


    I agree completely with you that “The iPhoned version might be the only version you need,” it seems like a simple user-preference scaling function is all that would be needed, if anything.

    I really don’t see the point in excluding anyone from information or functionality at all.


  16. Thanks Eric. That needed saying.

  17. Right on. I still run across sites on the web today that use old browser sniffing – checking for IE4 and NS 4, for crying out loud.

    We need to move on. We need to use current techniques. We need to build for the standards, not for the browsers.

  18. Is it OK to have a “best NOT viewed in IE5” advisory on our websites?

  19. Here’s an idea. Mind your own business. If I wanted to block out everyone but iPhone users (I don’t) then it’s simply not your problem or your business to tell me what to do. It’s actually quite hypocritical. Observe:

    Some web devs: “Don’t come to this site unless you’re on an iPhone!”
    You: “Don’t tell people not to come to your site unless they’re on an iPhone!”

    You’re both being jackasses. If people get pissed because some site is locked down to only iPhone users then guess what, that site will die! They don’t need you to save them from themselves. Here’s me telling YOU to stop telling people to stop telling other people what to do.

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  21. In the name of Darwin, I implore you: “Don’t worry – if it’s a bad idea it won’t flourish.”

  22. What is an iPhone?

  23. Does your advice still stand for sites like that show a huge disclaimer regarding Opera and many non-standard (according to them) browsers?

  24. ju: without question. I accept a secured site that doesn’t permit browsers that have broken security, but the way to do that is to test any browser that comes in to see if it conforms to the needed security levels, not to block or accept certain user agent strings.

  25. Are there actually sites that are iPhone only? So far, I’ve really only seen sites that have an iPhone styled option offered in tandem with the existing site.
    Just wondering.

  26. Bill h–

    3400 long character? Hell, wait until that entry page reaches 72,000. Legacy Meta tags? Arrrgh! You are suggesting that I surrender my Edsel?? God, I bet cows were hatched when those 404 error pages jumped out, huh. You are right, though. That is, however, a testing site. If you want to critique something of substance, then by all means go for it and you will have my undivided attention.

    On a serious note, what is “bad for business” is subjective. I will gladly argue the point, all day, and do it successfully that what has been bad for business, across any business segment, is lack of focus on the consumer and the failure to provide them with the ability to make intelligent choices, true perceived values in products/services aside.

    Thank you very much.

  27. I agree with this in general, but I have run into a case where a technical consideration made it totally impossible that the site would work in one particular browser.

    Safari doesn’t accept cookies from an iframe for GETs, and a previous version of a site I worked on depended on this because our application was hosted inside an iframe. If we let Safari users proceed, the user would never get successfully logged in. This would annoy the user highly and reflect poorly on our application.

    We’ve since figured out a work-around, but I definitely think that warning Safari users at the outset was the right thing to do at the time.

  28. Thanks Eric.This is exactly what most of us have been thinking about. The separation of the web as it was intended is slowly but surely being divided, carved up and segragated based on the excuse of delivery the best experience to the user. How do we know if that is their best experience? Worst is when these intentions become road blocks that stop user access to the content, regardless of how bad the layout looks, increase of security risks, or whatever the reasons. Users without conforming with right browser or device loses out. Choice loses out. Period.

  29. @ Julian.Grey:
    Apple is doing the stupid browser sniffing, looking for ‘Firefox’ instead of looking for ‘Gecko’ (and all Gecko clients broadcast the version of Gecko they use). It is not that they (the FruitCo) don’t know about rendering engines, as they sniff for WebKit (a rendering engine), where they could be sniffing for ‘Safari’.
    (and amusingly, there is an invalid character in one of their js files, which prevent Gecko trunk builds from loading the site)

    Echoing others, thanks for saying it out loud !

  30. Sing it brother!!!

    … must history always repeat itself? ;)

  31. I agree 100%. Good call. It’s hard to believe that some people think that this is still a valid way to do business…

    I recently ran into a similar issue on a professional level and could not use a company’s training site; they had to go back and train me “the old-fashioned way” — because I use a Mac. (Yes, I have Windows in Parallels, but I’m just too damned lazy to commit the sacrilege — and also because they were too cheap to hire anything more than a high-schooler to code their site. I am not exaggerating, either: an international company hired a Connecticut 10th-grader to script their web-based training!)

    Sean Hogan wrote in to say…
    In the name of Darwin, I implore you: “Don”t worry – if it”s a bad idea it won”t flourish.”

    And Darwinian theory doesn’t always hold: consider VHS, Ford (in about three places in its history), and…


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  33. I think you’ve forgotten something. There are hooks you can use in your iPhone webapp to send data to other iPhone apps. For example, you can have a button in your iPhone webapp that calls someone when you click on it. This button would not function (and should not function) if you were able to access the app on your PC.

    Sure if you’re just optimizing a standard website for your iPhone (or your wii or PSP as I do) then you might mention that it is optimized for a specific platform but let people view it anyway. This is different than optimizing for a browser because there are inherently different physical constraints. Unless you’re advocating dynamically generated interfaces (ug, have you seen the best they can do?) you’re going to need different interfaces for different devices.

  34. Carl–

    You brought up some interesting points. I am not at all familiar nor knowledgeable in iPhone development. I am thinking in terms of product innovation which I believe Apple has done with the iPhone. Telecommunications, of which the Internet is a part, are merging in both how services are sold and how consumers are using them.

    Rather than fighting Apple at what may very well be some significant innovations, shouldn’t the user agent developers and content developers be looking at how some of these innovations couldn’t be merged uniformly? For example, the telephone hook feature that you mentioned has value as a microformat capability that could dial the number for the user from any browser.

    This is where I am afraid that technology and consumer behavior may be very well outstrip the W3C’s standards development program as it currently is structured and managed.

    Maybe the Net, telecommunications is getting ready to fall into another fragmentation era. Christ … haven’t fully recovered from the last one.

  35. This comment is just for users with IE 8.0 and Firefox 4.0. I do have Mac so i can not support Safari. Other browser well forget about them.

    Hmm… now the preamble is finish …err.. what wanted to write about?

  36. I thought this is precisely why we have <link rel=”stylesheet” media=”handheld” …>. Uh, iPhone’s Safari *does* use the media=”handheld” stylesheet, doesn’t it?

  37. Loads of designers still use browsersniffing techniques for IE and Geckobased browsers – without providing an alternative stylesheet for every other browser out there. If you try to tell them it only takes a few simple lines to fix that, you get a reply they won’t bother “because hardly anyone visits our site with another browser”. I wonder why…

  38. yes, I couldn’t agree more with you, if I saw a site with …best view…, and my site is not the best view, then I just close the web


  39. Perhaps Apple should be reminded that it’s no longer 1997 now.

  40. But how else are we supposed to be elitist!?

  41. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I’ve been miffed at the spate of “ooh, look at us, we just made an iPhone optimised version of our site/web app, aren’t we cool?” like comments recently. Had a bit of a grumble about it on my own blog, nice to see some others feel the same way :)

  42. I’ve heard of designing for IE or Firefox, but iPhone? Are you f-ing serious? Of all the stupidities to rally a mob against, this blindingly obvious stupid act actually made the list?

    I guess Apple zealots really are like Steve Jobs, living in their own microcosm, just like Steve lives in his own field of reality.

  43. Why would any company or web service limit the potential customer base by by only using a platform that most people can not access? Sounds Like Iphone only appliacications are the same kind of thinking that that produced Apple software years ago. Anybody know of any company just making apple only software thee days??

  44. Meyer–

    Forgive me but all these posts along with yours have me totally confused. I am going to try to condense what you are saying, along with others, for the mind of an eleven year old. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

    You are objecting to content that uses browser sniffing for content that has been designed soley for the iPhone and thus locks out other browsers [people] from viewing the content, correct?

    The solution, that has only been hinted to, is to can the sniffing silliness and do the following, while understanding certain contraints of the iPhone [no support for
    Flash multi-media, for example]:

    Use a style sheet that targets the iPhone exclusively:

    link media="only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)"
    href="iPhone.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet"

    This is the boiled down simplified solution?

    Source: Optimizing Web Applications and Content for iPhone.


  45. Here’s the problem with that assessment. Those creating the “for iPhone only” web sites did not (generally) set out to create web sites. They wanted to create iPhone applications. If I write an iPhone application, I do not expect it to run on a PC, or even on a Mac.

    The real issue creating this symptom (because it is a symptom, not an actual problem) is the application development limitations that Apple has placed on the iPhone. Want to create an iPhone application? Then you MUST (according to Apple) create a web application that users can surf to like any other web site.

  46. Simple question: doesn’t (iPhone’s) Safari have scroll-bars? I don’t see why I should care about their resolution, the content is there, if it’s too much for your browser/device you’ll have to scroll. Of course, this can be abused, but let’s try to make some use of the (uncommon) common sense.

    Since I do hate having to deal with IE (mostly v6) I always use a “complex” CSS rule to add (not hide) a message informing them about better options and maybe a bit of the reasons why to change, inviting them to at least try them.

    @Alex Robinson:
    Strange as it is, I use Firefox on Windows 2K (sorry for the later) and I still get that screen (wtf?!) Am I the only one in this case?

    I agree letting the user make his/her own decision is better, and given we have no way (I’ve heard of) to check for the degree of CSS support JS (UA’s parsing) IS an option. That said, I thing none of us is happy with our options of dealing with it.

    Pissing off your clients IS bad for your business, they will stay if they have some dependency on your company (ever heard of monopolies? Come to my country!) but that doesn’t mean they’re not sending you curses while dealing with your site.

    As time goes by Internet is becoming more and more THE way to do certain things, notoriously service payments. Are companies stupid enough to make difficult for their clients to pay them? Incredibly, some are. Websites are part of the services companies provide to their users, they should care more about them.

    By the way, one the things some us try to avoid is having various versions of a site for different browsers / devices (or try to have as few as possible), and CSS IS included.

    Please add a timer to your preview code, it can get a bit heavy sometimes.

  47. Ralph–

    I agree in terms of various style sheets, ergo for IE7, no adjustments. Mobile devices, that playing field changed with the iPhone. It is too early to determine its market impact. However, I am leaning heavily towards specific style sheets targeted for the iPhone.

    As far as pissing off clients, if the London Olympic Committee [without doing a postmortem and several presumptions have been made] if their graphics firm had said “no we are not going to design a logo in the manner that you wish and here are the reasons why”, quite possibly the Olympic Committee wouldn’t have felt $750,000.00 [US] hit them in the back of the head.

    Even with your example of payment services, security is critical. I feel an obligation to notify clients and Web users that older versions of IE, including other older modern browsers, pose a security risk. Accommodating design so that Web visitors can still use those older browsers is, in my view, enabling their continued use. Microsoft had the courage to run IE7, with good justification, as a critical update. That took courage and conviction. That is one thing upon which I will back Microsoft, do it proactively and gladly take whatever heat may come down the pike.

    I feel an obligation to do whatever is possible to beat back the script monkeys. I believe there is significant merit to apply the following to Internet communication:

    The greatest threat to any in-country operative is an educated and aware indigenous population.

    If after all those things [the stop lights, the painted crosswalks, the signs, etc], the pedestrian fails to take notice and to look both ways before crossing that intersection and they get pancaked by an oncoming Greyhound bus, that fault is their own.

    I firmly believe that everyone within the Internet communication industry has an obligation to educate and bring awareness to the consumer. The choice is then up to consumer.

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  49. Why is this even a discussion point? If Apple is making money by designing a site solely for the iPhone then obviously the trend will continue.

    Just because you say so doesn’t make it right or wrong. Money talks and right now its saying, “make pages solely for the iPhone.”

    Welcome to capitalism and something called supply and demand. STOP IT. Stop it right now.

  50. The iPhone commercial promotes that the internet on the iPhone is “just the internet”. The IDEA that they are promoting for end users is that they can go to any website and see the website in all it’s splendor. They even show a user scrolling, enlarging and making use of the entire website’s space.

    Is the iPhone unable to do the same with a web app?

  51. hmmm, memories of the past hit back…

    If a web designer cannot produce site that renders correctly in the most commonly used browsers then perhaps the opening phrase should be:

    “This site is best viewed on paper.
    Purchase your copy now on [here shop address] for only £xxx + S&H + VAT.
    Delivery time 2-3 weeks.”

    Plus change of job is highly recommended here.

    Have you heard the newest pledge to trash IE hacks?
    I rolled under my desk laughing…


  52. I couldn’t agree more.

  53. couldn’t agree more…. the days of ‘best viewed…’ are surely gone…!?!? – at least they ought to be…!

    Eric, thanks for this post – will be a good one to point people to :)

  54. Unfortunately, I guilty of such nonsense; well, not exactly, but my group is! They used GridLayout in .Net, before I entered the project and yes we have the “Please use Internet Explorer”. Hopefully, the next project I can do the templates and make sure this nonsense does not happen again; it’s embarrassing.

    As for IPhoney, I have always developed to use the entire screen, small or large; but I won’t for a 1″ x 1″ screen!

  55. It’s one thing to actually prevent people from viewing a site by way of a script or something that redirects in the event you’re not using an iphone. Is that what you’re referring to? Do you have an example of a site that does that?

    If it’s a site that says, ‘iphone users only’, but still lets users access it, then I agree it’s annoying, but in the end it’s not really changing the experience. Also, the iphone is a bit of an anomaly in devices, right? It’s something that people are excited about that has a very specific screen size and user. So people want to design for that, I don’t really see a problem.

  56. The “trash IE hacks” initiative is interesting, I think we all thing the same, it’s just… not feasible. I could do that (and I actually do it, partially) with content that’s for my own, but I simply cannot do that in my client’s sites, because what they want is that “all” people can see their site, as good as possible.

    I agree with you on educating your users. But we can’t (well, we shouldn’t) stop them from accessing our site (i.e. the content) just because they wouldn’t see it as we want them to. It’s like doing the same thing just because [s]he don’t have the typography we used.

    Now, even MOS have inconsistencies we deal with, and so does IE 7 (they’re more, but “just a couple” compared to IE 6). I actually don’t see too harmful to add a few hacks to ensure certain degree of consistency across browsers, it would be worst not being able to do so and end up with a whole different page for each browser —I still insist on using better browsers though, but it could be worst.

    I see it this way: CSS give us the power to do a lot of things but we haven’t tried much, we limit ourselves from the very beginning, and that’s because of inconsistencies across browsers. So our options seem to be to, code “limited” layouts, or take the risk and end up using hacks and/or simply end up with plain different layouts on some browser (which is not necessarily bad, IMO).

  57. A lot of people seem to think I’m calling out Apple. I’m not. From what I’ve seen (admittedly, I haven’t seen everything), Apple’s been taking the tack of promoting use of standards in developing iPhone-optimized pages. That’s exactly what should be happening. What I’m protesting is those sites that prevent any user agent other than an iPhone from accessing them.

    One example is the new Media Temple AccountCenter for iPhone. Is there something intrinsic to these pages that they would only be useful on an iPhone? Not that I can tell. If there’s a “touch here to call us” button, then of course that will only work on an iPhone. But why wouldn’t I want to use a stripped-down workflow to, say, buy or renew a domain, or pay a bill, or reboot a server? And why would (mt) think it’s a good idea to prevent non-iPhone users from being able to do that through those screens?

    I’m sure whoever made that decision thought it was a good idea, just like some very early developers thought locking out any browser but their favorite was a good idea. It wasn’t, and it isn’t; and that needed to be said in the general case. Thus my post.

  58. Just a few specific responses.

    From ryan, we had:

    Here’s an idea. Mind your own business.

    That’s exactly what I was doing. Thanks for the support!

    Carl made the observation:

    I think you’ve forgotten something. There are hooks you can use in your iPhone webapp to send data to other iPhone apps. For example, you can have a button in your iPhone webapp that calls someone when you click on it. This button would not function (and should not function) if you were able to access the app on your PC.

    Nope, I haven’t forgotten that. The click-to-call button obviously wouldn’t work (at the moment) in non-iPhone clients. That’s not a reason to block said clients from the site/application, any more than it makes sense for me to block non-Firefox 3 users from accessing my site because they don’t have native microformats support.

    thacker asked:

    You are objecting to content that uses browser sniffing for content that has been designed soley for the iPhone and thus locks out other browsers [people] from viewing the content, correct?


    And last, pkenjora said:

    Welcome to capitalism and something called supply and demand.

    Ah yes, the exact same argument that was used when designers protested that browsers weren’t working to ensure cross-browser compatibility because they were too busy inventing new elements like BLINK and MARQUEE in order to “differentiate themselves in the marketplace”. It was a poor argument then and it’s an even worse one now. If you’re going to be obstinately short-sighted, could you at least be original about it?

  59. Meyer–

    Thanks for your response.

    You may have made an incorrect presumption regarding Media Temple’s iPhone only Web site. Your presumption appears that it was a developer decision to lock out other browsers. Media Temple’s business model may be to target only iPhone users. If such is the case [it may not be from the notice that appears on the site’s no-iphone content and they appear to wish to target, down the road, mobile users], the market will determine whether or not their site is valuable.

    If a business model and subsequent business and marketing plan chooses to target only users of iPhone, it may have merit. I am not going to be the one to say they are wrong because I, personally, lack first-hand knowledge of their product, business model, strategy and plan of execution. What I will say is that I don’t know if it is good or bad. The consumer will make that decision. On general principal and use, except as previously stated, using browser sniffing to lock out Web visitors may not be a good thing.

    It appears, also, there is some misconception among your post’s respondents about how the Safari browser in iPhone renders content. Such as, it doesn’t use scrollbars and it ignores handheld media type. iPhone uses a screen media type. A targeted style sheet can be used for the iPhone. The use of that may have merit for most content that should or wishes to communicate on the iPhone device.

    Regardless, thanks for your post. It made me think and research Apple’s iPhone. Can’t wait for Microsoft to introduce their competing product, the “isLemon”.


    I fully understand what you are saying. Honestly, I vacillate between your logic and a hard core position of my own. I despise vacillation particularly when I am the sob who is doing it. Thanks for your input.

  60. A web site should be accessible to all browsers. An iPhone app, however, is a different story.

    Apple has made Safari the *official development enviroment* for iPhone apps. It’s merely a coincendence that Safari is also a tool used to browse websites. iPhone apps and websites are not the same thing, and shouldn’t be viewed as such.

    If you believe that iPhone apps should be accessible to all devices, then I must ask the following: should Cocoa apps also be available to users of all devices? If not, why?

    Because it’s exactly the same thing. Cocoa is the recommended development platform for building Mac apps. No one expects Mac apps to be accessible to Windows/Linux/Unix/whatever users. Safari is the recommended development enviroment for building iPhone apps. And yet, people expect iPhone apps to be available to Windows Mobile/Symbian/UIQ/whatever users. Why?

    I just don’t get it.

  61. And by the way — I’d second jumpstart’s question: where are these iPhone sites that lock other browsers out? I’ve seen alternative versions for iPhone, but I’ve yet to see a site that is truly iPhone only. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I haven’t seen them. And — no offense, Eric — without examples, this whole rant does feel a little bit strawman-ish. :)

  62. And — no offense, Eric — without examples, this whole rant does feel a little bit strawman-ish. :)

    Read my comment, Jeff. What’s the equivalent of “straw man” for a man that turns out to be real?

    Speaking of straw men:

    Safari is the recommended development enviroment for building iPhone apps. And yet, people expect iPhone apps to be available to Windows Mobile/Symbian/UIQ/whatever users. Why?

    I said nothing about “iPhone apps”. I talked about web applications, which are a web site (or at least part of one). When there’s a real iPhone SDK which compiles programs that have nothing to do with web standards or web sites, but run locally on the phone itself, I’ll not say a word against them. For example, I don’t think the Google Maps application should be “open”, in the sense that it would be available for other devices, any more than I think Cocoa application should be available to Windows users. That’s because yes, compiled applications are inherently different than web sites and web applications.

    I do, however, believe that the Google Maps web site should be open to all comers—as it is. Whether it works or not is up to the standards support in the client, and the standards use of the site’s coders. And yes, I think an iPhone-optimized site should be open to “Windows Mobile/Symbian/UIQ/whatever users”, assuming those users’ clients are web browsers. Maybe it will work on those devices, and maybe it won’t, but the possibility that it might not is still no excuse for turning them away.

    I recognize that programmers are frustrated that the only way to develop for the iPhone is to create web applications instead of compiled applications. I’ve also kept that division very clear. It’s deeply strange to me that you have not.

  63. Sorry I missed your comment, Eric. I definitely didn’t read them all thouroughly, I admit. I just skimmed them, and I flat missed that.

    And, I know you said nothing about iPhone apps. But others did (I read some comments!). I wasn’t addressing you specifically when I said that. You seem to have taken my comments rather personally (which, frankly, happens a lot — I’m not sure if you have something aganist me or what). I didn’t intend them personally at all. Only the straw man one was even directed at you.

    But since we’ve come this far…

    Your contention — as I understand it — is that there is currently no such thing as a third-party “iPhone app,” because to you, “iPhone app” only applies to compiled, locally installed programs (and only Apple can create and install those — third parties cannot). Is that correct? You are saying that a dynamic program built to run in the Safari enviroment and installed at a public URL does not qualify as an iPhone app?

    If that is your position, then I definitely do disagree. Porgrams built specifically for Safari 3’s rendering engine, the iPhone’s screen resolution, etc. definitely are, in my mind, iPhone apps. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m just saying, that’s what they are. Just like programs built with Active X back in the day weren’t web sites, they were IE apps.

    It seems to me that people are bothered by this because they still see HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the like as “web” languages.These are not web languages. They are simply languages. They are used online and offline.

    People see Safari, IE, and Firefox as “web browsers.” They’re not (only, anymore). They’re application platforms. Unlike Cocoa, for example, they have gained the ability to run applications that live locally or remotely. This is a good and exciting thing.

    Likewise, some “vetrans” seem to still believe that there is some kind of noteworthy difference between a compiled app and a scripted app. This is old-school thinking. Many Mac and Windows apps these days make use of Python, Ruby, and other “scripting” languages. The difference between scripting languages and programming languages is a non-factor in 2007.

    This is the new world we live in. The Internet is an application platform, not just a content delivery mechanisim. Some of those applications will be targeted at individual devices. It’s debatable wether or not this is a good thing. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good thing. But the fact is that it’s exactly the same situation we’ve had for all these years with locally-installed apps.

    My question is still: if you believe that apps should not be targeted at one device, why are you not offended that, say, Transmit only runs on Mac OS X? What makes iPhone apps so darn different?

  64. Yeah, I think this is one of those things where we’re never going to agree with each other—we have very different concepts of what constitutes an “iPhone application”. Or, quite possibly, what constitutes an “application”. Because when you say:

    My question is still: if you believe that apps should not be targeted at one device, why are you not offended that, say, Transmit only runs on Mac OS X? What makes iPhone apps so darn different?

    …it’s pretty clear to me that we’re working with two different definitions of the word. That, in fact, they’re different enough that it’s almost impossible to discuss this without causing further misunderstanding. To me, it’s almost as though you asked why I’m offended that cars can’t fly given that birds have wings. (No, that’s not an attempt at an exact analogy.)

    I do understand your viewpoint and the basic axioms that underpin your view, but they’re so different from mine that it’s hard to answer within that framework (ha!) in a way that doesn’t cause more confusion. Nothin’ wrong with that; at least we know!

  65. Fair enough, Eric. Thanks for the response. :)

    I would say, to round out my comments on the matter, that almost every iPhone-targeted “thing” I’ve seen (that’s apps, web sites, web pages, whatever) is an alternative version of pre-existing content or tools. If I start to see tools/sites/apps that are truly only for the iPhone, I will be bothered by that trend. I haven’t seen that yet, though, so I sort of feel like this is all much ado about nothing.

  66. Wow, looks like we were thinking the same thing… (click my name)

  67. Other people mentioned the option of media="handheld" which obviously doesn’t work. Alternatives could be a .mobi domain, or if iPhone really is so special, why not media="iphone"? Of course it would be a smarter to keep Safari compatible with other browsers, but apparently Apple is a bit challenged in the HTML department.

    By the way, last time I surfed eBay with the latest version of Opera Mini on my mobile it told me to upgrade my browser. Ridiculous!

  68. In response to #7 (, we purposely kept open to non-iPhone users for many of the reasons that eric laid out in the blog post. It’s actually a rather handy way to use the site, so we wanted as many folks to use it as possible, not just those with iPhones.

    ben lowery, bloglines software engineer

  69. Pingback ::

    hlb’s weblog » 網頁與軟體的界線

    […] Eric Meyer: The Veteran”s Charge […]

  70. If I start to see tools/sites/apps that are truly only for the iPhone, I will be bothered by that trend. I haven”t seen that yet, though, so I sort of feel like this is all much ado about nothing.

    I think what Eric is trying to do is prevent a trend like that from happening in the first place by calling out any would be perpetrators. At least that’s what I got out of his post.

  71. I think what Eric is trying to do is prevent a trend like that from happening in the first place by calling out any would be perpetrators. At least that”s what I got out of his post.

    That’s cool. Nothing wrong with a bit of preventative warning. It just came across as a rant, and I was having trouble figuring out who the rant was targeted at, I guess.

  72. Pingback ::


    […] “the iPhone is Internet Explorer 4 all over again” while Eric Meyer wants services to stop user agent sniffing to block out non-iPhone […]

  73. “This page best viewed in…”
    a) comfy cloths, perhaps sweats and a favorite t-shirt
    b) a stupor
    c) an open mind

  74. So, what are your thoughts on “encouraging” ie6 and earlier users to upgrade to ie7 by using a conditional comment at the top of the ie6 screen that says something like, “your browser is out of date, we recommend you upgrade it”?

  75. Many users are unable to update their browsers (or devices) for a number of reasons which can include limited experience, lack of awareness, restricted permissions, and/or limited resources.

    Thacker touched on ‘lack of awareness’ but is missing other potential obstacles.

    Responsible web development will ensure content is available/accessible for as many users as possible. I’m thinking especially of our neighbors in the developing world.

  76. I would have no objections to a “This is best viewed on an iPhone. Click here to go to the non-iPhone version” message. It is forseeable that someone will send an iPhone link to a non-tech-savy person who is not using an iPhone. The site will look at best awkward and at worse plain wrong for them. Without notifying them of the reason why you are leaving them mysytified. However, it must be a “best viewed” with a clear link to the alternate version.

  77. So if it works on the iPhone, it might work on other platforms and browsers. Isn’t it standard-compliant?

  78. I love my iPhone and my blogger blog, but blogger and iPhone don’t play together. I can’t enter text into the body. So the blog views OK on iPhone, I just can’t add posts. Blogger says, in one place, regarding shortcuts. “These work OK in IE and Firefox. They might work in other browsers.”

    What do you think about that as a different way of saying “Optimized for IE and Firefox”

  79. The only good thing about optimizing sites for the iPhone might be that it is an argument for my company to buy me one ;-D

  80. Pingback ::

    افكار و احلام » Requiem for a rendering engine

    […] the end, the waves of browser sniffing that plague “Web 2.0” and a slow and somewhat buggy Javascript/DOM implementation (technologies on which “Web 2.0” is […]

  81. Pingback ::

    Put your Content in my Pocket : Digital Mohawk

    […] not a jail. Likewise, if a user without an iPhone wants to look at this part of your site, don”t block them with some “for iPhone only” nonsense. Remember that the web always works best when it”s open […]

  82. Pingback ::

    Let’s get specific

    […] to present content in an entirely different way, just for the iPhone? It does remind people of the bad old days of the Browser Wars, before web standards took hold. There’s a great article by David Storey over at My Opera on […]

  83. The Nokia N800 allows use of a full browser, Apple and other cell phone makers could allow for this too, but they choose not too. So why feel sorry for them!

    And defending Microsoft, when they were a huge impediment to having consistent standard browser settings and causing us to have to use cross browser hacks…why support / defend them, when they were the primary cause of the problem? (Fool me once…fool me twice, shame on me. How many times have they fooled many, well over six and they are playing the same marketing hype BS with their next release in 2010…geez)

    If people held them accountable by voting, by adopting other browsers and software, they would get the hint and cut the anti-everyone-but-us crap or go out of business. Either way we would be better off. I for one choose not to reward them any longer for their bad browser behavior.

    Oh yes, Since the Nokia is a linux hand-held device, I was able to add two 4GB mini memory cards (w/ adapters) for 8GB of storage. I was able to add an additional 128MB of virtual RAM on the internal 4GB memory card for use by applications.

    These memory cards are small enough to fit into any phone, even the iPhone, yet they choose not to use them for their own proprietary reasons. Heck you could fit a half dozen of these mini memory cards into even the smallest phone. At 4GB and larger a pop, that is some memory / storage.

    WiFi, WebCam, phone, sound, mic, FM radio chip, fully functioning operating system, running fully functioning applications, etc…I love my Nokia N800 and devices that are similar that enhance my functionality rather then limit me!

  84. Apparently I completely missed this when you wrote it, but I completely and whole-heartedly agree! Go Eric!

  85. (I know, a year late and a dollar short)

    While I agree to an extent, I’ve got to say I’m in the camp that says this:

    “best NOT viewed in IE6”

  86. We have something at work which does a user-agent sniff serverside and blocks you if it doesn’t detect a high enough version of Internet Explorer or Firefox.
    I don’t really mind if webmasters are putting up “best viewed in browser X”. Sure, it puts me off. But at least then when their non-standards-compliant site just doesn’t work, I don’t have to sit and wonder where I went wrong. I can just say “Oh, I see, it’s because the webmaster was too ignorant to write a standards compliant site”…

    In fact, I’d almost be glad if more people put them up, every week I find more sites that don’t work in [insert browser name here] because an inexperienced (or stupid, etc) webmaster copied some 1997 jscript from a certain green and white code snippets site and only bothered to test it in IE6 or something stupid.
    At least when they put those stupid badges up, I can avoid the site from the start instead of getting to the last stage in email composition or internet banking or whatever and having to find a better provider!

    So… Yeah OK, those badges do run against the whole spirit of the internet, but they’re good for a laugh and a warning.
    Although I am against them (yes, in spite of the tone of my comment) I must say I’d make an exception.

    When erecting sites for personal purposes, I never put in all the extra effort to make them work in Virus Explorer. My stuff tends to work correctly first time in every browser except Internet Explorer. If it works there, cool, I’ll leave it. If not, I do usually put up a message asking the user to go download a proper browser (+links).

    Unfortunately I am one of those people who bangs into constant problems with IE7 and even IE8 – as if IE6 wasn’t bad enough before 7 came out.

    Usually I will recommend one of Firefox, Opera, Safari and Chrome. “If you don’t like it, try one of the others. They all have very different user interfaces but they’re all excellent browsers.”

    No, I don’t hate the badges as much as I hate sites which block unknown browsers. Functionality != security. All browsers should get the same content, where possible! (And with the exception of IE, I see no reason why it is not possible. Especially since the advent of HTML5)

  87. I’ve just bought an iPod Touch (similar browser functionality to the iPhone) and use its WiFi to browse the Web. No Flash, of course, but I can explore any standards compliant website by pinching with my fingers on its touch screen.

    There are three distinct ways of using the iTouch/iPhone:
    . view native iPhone Apps
    . view web sites styled to imitate native Apple iTouch/iPhone Apps
    . view any other web sites

    I agree that locking out any user-agent is against the spirit of Sir Tim’s vision for the Web.

    Surely, though, there is a logical solution – one adopted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s mobile site:
    ABC Mobile

    It is available to all user-agents, but its address indicates it’s styled for mobile use. In a desktop browser, I can scale the browser’s viewport to view it as I would on an iPhone.

    Similarly, some sites place a mobile-styled version of their content in a separate directory:

    Provided these pages are accessible by all user-agents, why shouldn’t site owners use them to deliver tailored versions of their content to iPhones?

    If someone using an iPhone prefers to view some sites in iPhone-tailored form, why shouldn’t we cater for their preference?

    Having read the Apple developers guidelines for Safari, I see many benefits for creating special web pages optimised for iPhone display.

    Provided they are available to all user agents and designated by their addresses for mobile use, what’s all the fuss about?

    As a developer friend said to me the other day: “Programming for the iPhone is going to be huge!” He wasn’t only referring to Apple Apps – but to optimised web pages as well.

    Eric, I’m keen to know your views on this approach.

  88. Pingback ::

    Optimize Smart Phone Site - iPhone, iPad, Android - | JazonPress

    […] not a jail. Likewise, if a user without an iPhone wants to look at this part of your site, don’t block them with some “for iPhone only” nonsense. Remember that the web always works best when it’s open […]

  89. I don’t see a prompt or indication about how to start writing a blog. I want to know how to initiate one. Thank you..

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