The Media War Against the Mobile Web
Neither Samsung, nor Amazon, nor Microsoft, nor BlackBerry could pry the iPad from my hands. But somebody finally did -- and you won't believe who it was.
My ancient white plastic MacBook hadn't moved once from the teleprompter stand since I bought a first-generation iPad, going on three years now. And even though I've owned a speedy iPad with Retina Display since those first came out, I broke down a couple weeks ago and bought myself a new laptop. I still love tablets, and still take mine everywhere, but it's no longer the go-to device when I'm away from my desk.
Feel free to laugh at me, the guy who had sworn off laptops forever. But before you point and laugh, let me explain why.
The web now sucks on tablets. It just sucks. Because a bunch of media and news companies broke it. On purpose.
It's as if a bunch of high-level IT guys met in a secret bunker a couple years ago, seething at stupid Steve Jobs and stupid Apple and their stupid iPad. Then they hatched an evil plot to ruin tablet browsing. And they've pretty much succeeded.
(The bunker part is fictional; the seething at all things Apple is not.)
A few examples.
Near as I can tell, it started with ABC News. Shortly after the original iPad came out, ABC would no longer let you browse their standard website. Now, there's no good reason for this, because Mobile Safari is a full-fledged browser that can take anything you throw at it (besides Flash of course), on a screen big enough to navigate. Amongst ABC's cruelties:
• Their mobile site dropped standard web navigation standards in favor of what one critic (me) calls, "A big flaming pile of doo."
• No copy'n'paste. Now, ABC News might assume that bloggers (me) might want to use their site for, you know, blogging. And yet through some dark sorcery, they removed the ability to copy text from their stories.
• Nonstandard URLs. So, a smart cookie (me) tried a bypass around the no-copy rule: Copy the URL, mail it to myself, then open it up later on my desktop the next time I'm downstairs at work. But the mobile site uses its own URLs, and they don't display correctly on your desktop browser. And, no, there's no simple way to edit the mobile URL to get the "real" URL. "You can't blog there from here," is the motto of ABC webmasters.
You might think ABC news is a special case, but no. This kind of mistreatment has become common, especially on news sites where I earn my bread and butter. There's a service called OnSwipe, which anyone can use to turn their perfectly-functional blog into a Frankenstein's Creature version of ABC News. And that's when OnSwipe actually works, which it frequently doesn't. I won't name names, but smart bloggers who should know better use OnSwipe -- if they're wondering why I quit linking to them.
Then there's the Curse of the Official App.
You're a major newspaper and you have an official app in the App Store. Good for you. The Hill has one, too. I know this because when The Hill detects a mobile browser, it puts a tasteful banner ad at the top off their standard web page, telling me so. It seems every other news site with a custom app announces their delightful app with an unavoidable notification menu you're forced to click through. Every. Single. Time.
(I'm happy to report that PJMedia's app doesn't commit any of these sins, and that our website doesn't annoy you with endless notifications about our app. We seem to be the exception for newsy organizations.)
If you've used YouTube on your iPad since Apple and Google parted ways, you know it's a hot mess. When YouTube still had its own app, every video played. That's no longer true, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason. Menus are jittery, and scrolling is terrible. I suspect, but cannot prove, vindictiveness on Google's part. Either way, YouTube just isn't very usable as a web page on an iPad.
What's happening is the "appification" of the tablet web. Corporations, especially media corporations, want their websites to work like apps. Failing that, they want to force you to use an actual app. The reason may be an attempt to build walled gardens around their websites. The web is open and messy and people hop from one site to another without much thought. Get them in an app, and they'll have to leave the whole app to get back out. "We'll have the world's largest audience of lazy, low-information tablet owners -- and we'll charge them One MILLION Dollars! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA."
It's a shame, too. The first time I surfed the web on a tablet, it was something close to a revelation. I was holding the whole internet right there in my hand, and it responded effortlessly and immediately to my touch. It was… shiny.
Since, webmasters and hip IT departments at the big media companies have taken that experience away, in a vain attempt at fixing what wasn't broken, and at trapping us in app silos from which there is no escape. The result is a big crap sandwich for the audience, and I refuse to take another bite.
So if you need me, I'll be at my laptop.
(Thumbnail PJM homepage composited using an image from Shutterstock.com.)