Why the iPad, Flash, Adobe Products and User Agent Detection Really Do Matter

Being the owner of a Macbook Pro, iPhone, and iPad, you might consider me an Apple Fanboy. I can tell you I’ve been involved in web development long enough to tell you that the current state of usability on the web is nearing the low point: when, in the late 90’s, browsers had no standardization and we had to design different sites for Netscape and Internet Explorer. The current situation comes mostly from designing sites that don’t render properly or at all on mobile devices like a mobile phone, tablet, or iOS device.

Before you cast me aside as being on the bleeding edge of technology and that I don’t really register as being statistically significant, I’ll share three links with you:

In most cases, people aren’t going to share or link to you if your website doesn’t work on their platform of choice…

Recently, I was trying to fix my dishwasher (listen, I cook a lot and dirty a lot dishes…knowing how to do some basic repairs myself saves me a little cash now then). About every 8-10 months, the part of the dishwasher that is supposed to grind up the food that doesn’t get pre-rinsed gets clogged and needs be cleaned. I’ve bookmarked the site with the video for my model in Evernote because I use it so often. However, because the site was using a proprietary flash video player, when I clicked the link, I only got the audio podcast not the video showing me assembly/disassembly (screen shots below).

Laptop Version

iPad Version

Not a problem. I figured I’d head on over to Sears, get a link to the product manual, and do it the long way. Turns out ManageMyLife.com does such a bad job of user detection that they think I don’t have the Adobe Reader installed and can’t view the PDF for my model number.

Laptop Version

iPad Version

Great. So I had a hard time getting a video on how to fix my dishwasher and viewing the PDF for the instruction manual on my iPad. I had to go upstairs and use my laptop. Boo hoo on me for having first world problems, right? What we really have here is a case of bad site design and usability for not designing in a site that fails gracefully when it gets user agent detection wrong. As a marketer and SEO, these things matter and they are going to matter more in the future …

First World Problems

In most cases, people aren’t going to share or link to you if your website doesn’t work on their platform of choice. They aren’t going to share your link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social network, and if they do it will be the way I did: to make fun of you or use you as an example of a McFail. Search engines are getting smarter. They are using lots of signals to determine which sites rank. These days, usability and engagement are two key signals and, as Google gets better at measuring them more accurately, they’ll play an even more prominent role.

So what should site owners do in these cases:

  • Avoid using proprietary audio/video/pdf viewers and players. If you need to for advertising reasons, build a more bulletproof system of user agent detection and fail gracefully into a condition that allows users to still get the content.
  • Don’t let the same content exist on a mobile subdomain (link) and normal domain (link) as this only leads to trouble when content gets shared across mobile devices and laptops (looks squarely in the direction of Facebook and Youtube). Use one URL improve your user agent detection if you need to do so, but try to design a system that is user agent agnostic.
  • The number and kind of devices that people are going to use is only going to increase in the coming years. This is a problem that you will have to deal with sooner or later. If you design systems that are flexible and embrace these platforms, you will have an easier time building links, getting content shared, and improving the on site signals and metrics that the search engines are using.

photo credit: Shutterstock/Jaroslav74

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