Using my iPhone 5, the above screenshot is what I see when I visit Tumblr.com using Safari. I’m given three choices:

  1. Install Tumblr
  2. Open the Tumblr app
  3. Use the web version

The first two choices, when viewed together, are interesting. My first thought is why (because I’m a curious sort and like going down the proverbial rabbit hole). I immediately start to question why the first two buttons are there, instead of just one. And then I start to wonder about the technological hoops I need to jump through to only show one button depending on if the app is actually installed or not.

Maybe it’s a technological constraint (probable, considering the JavaScript support for registering custom protocol handlers). Maybe there is some unique problem these sort of options are supposed to solve? No idea. Maybe it’s something else? Crap.

And then, because my eyes move from left to right, I see the third button. My first question has been replaced with a second one and then a third and then a fourth. I try to pin down what it is I’m feeling.

Confusion? Maybe.
Frustration? Probably.
Continuous loops of why, why, why shouting inside my head? Absolutely.

I’m using a browser. Of course I want the web version. OF COURSE!

I’ve Made A Choice

Christian Heilmann:

everybody: stop offering me your half-arsed native apps when I went through the effort to surf to your site. I made my choice. respect that.

He is, of course, referring to less elegant solutions to this problem, but the question itself rings like a carallion in my head: Haven’t I already made a choice?

If I use my mobile device’s browser to go to Tumblr.com even though I have the Tumblr app installed, isn’t that a choice? If I browse to LinkedIn.com instead of using the native app, that’s a choice, right? How about Twitter? Facebook?

What Are We Trying To Solve?

If we have a smartphone capable of seeing this type of USE OUR NATIVE APP messaging, what problem are we trying to solve?

Did we think the user forgot that they installed the native app?

Maybe the user found themselves in some sort of weird email flow that sent them to the web (instead of the native app) and we wanted them to have an emergency eject button: USER, THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANTED. GO HERE.

Maybe our web experience is less than awesome.
Maybe we have better marketing tracking inside the app.
Maybe we’re trying to get around some shortcoming in web standards.

I don’t know. And that’s the problem.

What I do know is that I can’t stand it.

While I agree that the native app experience can be better than the web experience sometimes, I don’t adhere to this line of thinking like a religion.

Believe it or not, oh companies of the web, I know I have the Tumblr app installed. I know that I have the Twitter app installed. But I don’t want to go open those apps every single time I want to view some piece of content. I just don’t. I like the web. Changing apps inside of a mobile device feels more cumbersome to me.

Also, I think it should be noted, that I’ve never seen the anti-pattern to this applied anywhere.

No one, not a single person, will open a Twitter app on their phone only to see a triggered message asking them if they want to view that content on the web.

Tumblr doesn’t do it.
LinkedIn doesn’t do it.
Facebook, nope.

I don’t understand why this is so hard. I want to view the content of least resistance. If I’m in the app, let me stay in the app. If I’m on the web, let me stay on the web. Don’t make me second guess myself.

We should respect the user enough to make their own decisions. Patterns like these do little to help our users and a lot to make their experiences more confusing.