Many people don’t notice just how little love Windows Phone users get; how would they? I’m not talking about how companies refuse to create their flagship apps for Windows Phone– I’m talking about companies that actively refuse to include Windows Phone from using their services. Microsoft, in their latest Windows Phone OS, played a little devious and made their browser ‘pretend’ to be the other guys and it’s exposed a great deal of this misbehavior.
This is simultaneously great and terrible.
The gimic is simple– this is the user agent reported by my Lumia 920 running the 8.1 developer preview:
Mozilla/5.0 (Mobile; Windows Phone 8.1; Android 4.0; ARM; Trident/7.0; Touch; rv:11.0; IEMobile/11.0; NOKIA; Lumia 920) like iPhone OS 7_0_3 Mac OS X AppleWebKit/537 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile Safari/537
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice a few things immediately jump out .. the words ‘Android,’ ‘iPhone,’ ‘Mac OS X,’ and ‘AppleWebKit’. Most developers (myself included) take a pretty simple route to detecting the browser. I’d look for one of those words, assuming that other browsers wouldn’t include them. Because of this clever statement of “we’re just like these other guys,” websites all over the place light up with new functionality that had been hidden from us.
The most prime example is Google. As soon as this latest OS update landed, Google’s service became usable for the first time on Windows Phone. It’s NOT that the Windows Phone browser couldn’t handle Google’s complex mobile code in earlier versions; they simply refused to take the time to include the Windows Phone user agent in their feature detection code, despite years of complaints and cries of foul play by Microsoft and WP8 users.
There is a downside to these new features, however, and I can give you a great example.
I’m attending DragonCon this year. They’ve contracted with a company, Core-Apps, to create a mobile-friendly website and native apps for attendees. Problem is, their website uses this kind of simple detection to redirect iPhone users to the iTunes store (giving users a far better experience, I’d imagine). The side effect of Microsoft’s ruse is that WP8 users are, too, redirected to iTunes (Microsoft is clever enough to determine the name of the application the user is being directed to, and pulls up the WP8 store with search results for apps of the same name). This wouldn’t be a problem, except there is no way around that detection-redirection, so the entire mobile site is inaccessible to me.
All-in-all, I think Microsoft is really smart for being a little deceptive; it’s far more beneficial than not, but it does come with a cost.
Maybe, someday, WP8 will get the respect I, critics, and a growing fanbase feel it deserves … but I’m not holding my breath.
Quick side note: I emailed the good people at Core-Apps and they’ve been REALLY responsive with help. I’ve gotten email responses back from two different staff members on a Sunday.