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Google Hides Layout, JavaScript from Game Console Browsers

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In ancient times (September, 2012), Anna Debenham tested websites in game console browsers, found the experience wanting, and advised people who make websites to use progressive enhancement, design with mobile in mind, and optimize for performance. That’s good advice whether folks use game consoles to access your website or not.

In a follow-up article of sorts last month (Google and the 3DS Browser), Anna found that Google doesn’t trust designers and developers to do the right thing. She discovered that when a 3DS browser user looks up a website on Google’s search engine, Google’s link takes the user to a dumbed-down version of the page:

So Google is applying its own layout-free CSS template and disabling Javascript on the whole web for 3DS browsers coming through its search engine.

Her guess (and ours) is that Google is trying to be helpful by simplifying complex websites for users of less than stellar browsers and devices. If you’re using a 3DS browser and want to access an actual web page, not a dumbed-down subset version, you need to type the page’s URL into your 3DS and avoid Google’s search engine like the plague.

Intrigued by Anna’s posts, and by her screenshots of the old (2005–2012) A List Apart design in the old (2012) 3DS, A List Apart designer Mike Pick ran the responsive 2013 layout of the magazine through the new 3DS (http://monkeydo.biz/blog/ala-on-the-3ds):

Looks pretty nice, aside from some odd glitches in italic text. Notable: the default sans font includes a numero glyph.

As noted in the original post of course, you don’t get to see the nice responsive design if you arrive via Google.

8 Reader Comments

  1. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen on my Windows Phone 8. I’m not sure if it does it anymore or not though (switched back to Bing, even though I hate Bing, because Google was being annoying)

  2. Google has always used very draconian browser sniffing — this shouldn’t be news to anyone. If you aren’t part of the small set of browsers they whitelist, you get that experience. It’s also an easily testable hypothesis: one simply changes the UA string to something else. Google’s UA sniffing has been massively problematic for minor browsers — even Opera as the most notable of them — often putting users off because “[Google Property X] doesn’t work as well as it does in Firefox/Chrome/IE/Safari”.

  3. Jeffrey, thank you for writing this. I’m torn because I think Google is doing a good thing by making the web accessible for people where it might not otherwise be, but at the same time, I think they are applying this too liberally.

    My advice is still to use progressive enhancement (now more so than ever) – the problem is that there are so many sites that don’t do this. On my 3DS, Google is actually breaking more websites than they are making accessible.

    Since I wrote that post, I’ve had a few people saying this happens on some of their devices too. One of the comments here mentions it happening on a Windows 8 phone, which is worrying. It’s frustrating, on an unusual but capable device, not to be given the option on the site to let the browser render it.

    As more and more weird devices with browsers come out, where will Google draw the line?

  4. Yeah, it’s true it’s same in windows phone also and in all phone which supports HTML5 browsers and I think it’s good as Google is trying to be helpful by simplifying complex websites for users.

  5. I operate a video game web site that might actually get some significant traffic from the 3DS browser, and I consider it very unfortunate that Google would decide for users what their experience will be.

    While it is nice that Google would provide this option to the user, they should at least be able to choose whether they wish to use Google’s CSS or the one provided by the site for their device.

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