Published on Friday, 26 Apr, 2013
The curse of the subdomain
I started writing this post on my tablet. It’s a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which of course you will turn your nose up at because you’re probably reading this on a shiny, new-fangled iPad 8 or whatever the rest of the world went and bought. Let’s not dwell on our differences. The simple fact is that we are all tablet brothers, bonded by a singular truth. And that truth is that most of the time it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at an Android device or an iOS device (or a Microsoft Surfa… oh, who am I trying to kid?), if you’re browsing the web on a tablet you’re quite likely to be having a fragmented, rubbish experience too much of the time. Are you a phone? Are you a desktop? Are you somewhere in the middle?
It struck me earlier today that my tablet is my go to ebook/comic reading device (alongside paper versions), and my video player. That’s pretty much it. Shockingly for someone in this industry I’m not really an app person, and those I do use tend to be mainly on my phone. I don’t enjoy doing work like creating documents or coding on a tablet. Occasionally I’ll take it to a meeting. It’s great for Skype when I’m abroad. I love my tablet for entertainment, but the real telling point for me however is my severe lack of desire to browse the web. I’m one of those people who has moved almost exclusively to their phone unless I have good reason to use something else. I am that statistic about users on their sofas. I just do not feel the desire to use a tablet. Is this the fault of the tablet makers? Is it a flaw with the form factor, an awkwardness of the hardware, or a flaw with the browser options available? No, it’s down to the rubbish experience provided by far too many websites. Far too many sites are not allowing me to enjoy engaging with their content on a tablet because of limitations they have put in place.
I was recently made aware of the existence of a “tablet.” site, a notion so horrible that it took me a while to pluck up the courage to visit. Of course it is accompanied by sister sites – a desktop version, and the lovely “m.” which is rapidly foisted upon my phone against my will, where on visiting I am prompted to install the Android app! Hello door slam! I can picture the scene now: popular clothing chain H&M keeping developers in cages, developers who weep upon hearing that the product API has changed yet again and they’re going to have to amend each version of the site. Plus apps.
The discussion around dedicated mobile sites vs responsive, or apps vs web have been done to death and I’m not going to rehash all of the arguments for each. They have been made far more eloquently in other places. My fear is that m. is one thing, but tablet. is something we simply cannot allow to continue.
Before we move on it is however worth pointing out that with the example I’m using, all experiences are not without their issues. At least on my phone, the very first experience you have is utterly broken. Have a look at these shining examples of how to promote user drop-off:
Yes, I just rotated my phone from portrait to landscape and back. Bravo. I’m going to put this down to the poor developer’s (we’ll call him Jimmy) fingers being worn down to bloody stumps from having to manage so many unnecessary site instances.
But back to our tablet. subdomain. Steady yourself. This is exciting. We’re not presented with an app door slam this time (Jimmy was found slowly rocking backwards and forwards on the floor under his desk after apps for iPads and Android and Surface got queried). After going through a country select option we’re presented with the tablet site! In all its glory! Oh…
In all fairness I have just checked again in the course of finishing this post, and the bug appears to have been fixed. Still, perhaps all of the images above are a result of maintaining and having to test one too many sites? My main tablet. issues however, are not the lack of images on the homepage.
As we plan websites, the goal should be to maximise the potential of devices, and to support the user in their choice of browsing. This may sometimes be reflected in deliberate, considered choices around the presentation of content, as well as functionality or interactions available. Different screen sizes, input methods, or locations may realistically impact on the best way for users to engage with your content.
What this should not mean for users, is fragmented, poorly thought out processes, and jarring inconsistencies in what they expect from using the site. Sadly this is exactly what the H&M experience gives us.
If I want to register, on the tablet site I am asked whether I want to sign up for the newsletter. On the mobile site, the exact same form fields are used… apart from this time there is no mention of newsletter preferences. I assume I get what I’m given. There is no ‘buy as a guest’ option on either mobile, tablet or desktop site.
On the tablet I select Shop > Ladies, and am presented immediately with a screen full of assorted garments. The ability to optionally filter by colour, size, or ‘concept’ is in the form of a slide down overlay which takes up the whole screen. Confusingly I am told “To filter by size, please select a clothing category”… with no option to pick a category such as ‘dresses’ anywhere visible. Concepts such as ‘Trend’ do not allow filtering by size. I found the category selector, which was outside of the main filter mechanism, disguised as part of the breadcrumb. On the mobile site, I am given the option to go straight into Ladies from the homepage, except this time there is no assortment of clothes. I am forced to instantly make my selection from categories such as New Arrivals, This Week, Tops etc, or to manually select that I want to View All. I am expecting one convention, and way of navigating the catalogue, but the mechanisms available require me to re-learn how you have categorised your products.
The navigation is again inconsistent – the tablet presents Shop, Inspiration, and Service on the primary navigation, with icons of a person silhouette (‘My H&M’ – some kind of user profile) and a shopping bag (cart). The mobile site instead provides a drop-down navigation, offering Shop, Inspiration, Shopping Bag, My H&M, Customer Service, and Store Location, all using both icons and text. There is a duplication in the form of Shopping Bag, where the icon is also omnipresent in the top bar. As a user on a tablet, I am given additional content in the form of Newsletter Signup and Order from Catalogue, both of which I have been unable to find on the mobile site, whilst Store Location is now deemed to be less important, appearing under Service. Under Inspiration on tablet I get Campaigns and Fashion Video, whilst on mobile I get Fashion and Fashion Videos. The content in Campaigns and Fashion does not appear to match.
Best of all, on both tablet. and m. there is a footer option to access the “Web version”, i.e. a poorly named link to the desktop site. What am I viewing this on then, if not the web?!
I could go on all day. I’ve already expressed my love of auditing sites in a previous post, and I don’t wish to single out H&M as the sole perpetrator of crimes against devices. In actual fact if anyone from there happens to stumble across this post I would love to have a productive conversation with you, and provide you with some recommendations.
My point is this. I may be sat on my sofa using my phone, but then switch to my tablet because my battery dies. By all means tailor the content to my device using different presentation methods, but just because my screen may suddenly now be a few inches larger this is not an invitation to change underlying conventions which I already have a perception on based on my previous interaction with you. Don’t give me functionality on a mobile and not a tablet. Don’t change the options available on one and not the other, or limit what I can do. You’ll improve your page views as I’ll probably sit, confused, flicking between multiple devices to try to achieve my tasks, but you certainly won’t improve your conversion rates. This has been stated many times before with regards to mobile and desktop, but when we’re talking mobile and tablet it just seems ridiculous.
The tablet market is huge. Embrace it. Don’t force users into a stretched dedicated mobile experience because they’re not on a ‘standard’ computer, and don’t be lazy and inflict pinch/zoom hell on them either. However, when considering your approach for the middle ground, do you really want yet another codebase to maintain and test? Do you really want a tablet. site? What about a tabmini. for smaller tablets that aren’t quite phones, or tabmaxi. for laptops with detachable touchscreens? Jimmy doesn’t. Are you going to give your user experience designers the ability to maintain standards and consistent experiences across multiple platforms, yet to plan enhancements where possible, or are you going to plan one process and shoddily, inconsistently apply it across other fragmented versions of your site? Are you going to break the internet by forcing someone into an experience and content that doesn’t match the link they followed, based solely on the device they are using?
If you’re someone who’s even considering creating a tablet. site, stop it. Stop it right now, or I am coming after you.