Another case where Windows seemingly goes out of its way to punish mobile users is with responsive websites. These are sites that exist as one singular webpage, but that adapt to the device being used to view them. More and more sites are using this scheme because it allows web developers to focus on a single site rather than separate ‘desktop’ and ‘mobile’ sites. Teleflora (my employer), for example has just recently redesigned our website to be responsive, and we’re in the process of upgrading tens of thousands of sites we host for our clients, because responsive sites also offer a more consistent experience for visitors, and naturally a better experience results in more commerce.
Often the adaptation is simply a response to the width of the screen being used. If you have a wide monitor, you’ll see the site laid out to appropriately use all that screen real estate. On a screen with a skinny aspect ratio like that of a phone or tablet held in portrait orientation, the site will respond with a mobile-friendly layout that flows better vertically, and with images, menus and controls suited to the size of the screen without requiring you zoom in or scroll horizontally to read a sentence. You don’t need a phone to try it out, just resize this website and see how it adapts to the size of your browser.
Like the unlock experience, these best practices of web design have been tried and tested over more than a decade, and are supported by every browser on earth – yes, even Internet Explorer. But again, Microsoft throws away these standards to produce an unfavorable experience that nags at you anytime you try to use your tablet as a handheld device.
Detach or fold back your keyboard (or otherwise switch into tablet mode) and suddenly the hip new Edge browser punishes you by outright ignoring the responsive nature of the website, and instead rendering it as a desktop site that’s been zoomed out into oblivion. Reading a website this way is nearly impossible, and certainly does not provide a finger-friendly tablet experience. I thought this was the tablet that can replace my laptop, not a tablet that acts like a desktop. And again, this only punishes users that are foolish enough to use the “modern” Edge browser. Every other browser works properly, even Microsoft’s maligned IE, regardless of how you’re holding your device.
Don’t break the web.
Most frustratingly, I’ve been reporting this issue for years after first observing it on Windows 8’s “touch first” browser. Compounding the problem even worse was that Microsoft insisted that the mobile browser (then Modern IE, now Edge) rendered everything that same regardless of whether you were in tablet mode or not (or desktop browser or not). Obviously this was and is false, but so sure were they that the modern and desktop browsers behaved identically that they didn’t even allow web developers to work around it: websites were blocked from being able to detect what mode (which browser) is being used—they said it wasn’t necessary and thus they wanted to block you from doing so. Which means so much for the claim that you can develop to established HTML5 standards and have it work on all browsers – what they mean is it works on all browsers “except our new one”. As I told Microsoft, whether this is right, “right”, or wrong: if you’re doing something different and it breaks what works everywhere else (even on your own product’s other devices/modes), you’re breaking the web.
Consumers pick up a Surface tablet, and the only way to read the most popular websites in the world is to abandon the modern UI, and go to the desktop mouse-based browser — on their tablet.
After months and months of demonstrating the issue, talking with product managers that develop the browser, filing bug reports, and fighting tooth and nail that it was destroying the tablet experience… I finally got a response: “bug closed / won’t fix”. Sadly, this awful user experience has been carried forward into Microsoft Edge, where a user is punished for daring to use their tablet, as a tablet.
As of this writing, I was asked by Microsoft to please open a new bug on the Edge developer platform site. You can see that bug report here where it is presently assigned to “Rick J.”, and help draw attention by going there and clicking the ‘me too’ button.
PS. I see that I am not the only one that’s noticed this hostility to tablet users.
This post is one in a series of UX Matters, exploring some of the largest opportunities for experience improvement in Windows 10.