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Let's say you have a software feature that is only available on a newer browser, operating system, or physical mobile device. Some examples include:

  • A camera is required to upload photos in an app. Old iPod Touches don't have a camera.
  • Your video player can't enter full screen on Internet Explorer, but can in Firefox.
  • Live video streaming is enabled in iOS 3.0 and above. Most iPhones and iPods can get a free upgrade to iOS 3 or 4 from iTunes.

How do you present such features in your software?

A) Error message

When the user clicks/taps into the feature, tell him "this feature is only available on browser/OS/device XYZ". This complicates the interface, but if the upgrade is easy and free, such as upgrading iOS or switching browsers, then some users might make the switch.

B) Oblivious

Remove the link to that feature, so the old browser/OS/device can't even reach that feature. This cleans up your interface, but eager users will never find out about the feature.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends upon the application, the audience, and the significance of the feature.

Minor case: If Chrome presents a webpage with more pretty JQuery animations than Internet Explorer, it is typically a small enough difference that you wouldn't want to interfere with the IE user's already stunted experience with additional messages. In your second case (full screen video player), I'd say it depends how big you can get it in IE relative to full screen. Only a thumbnail? Let them know. YouTube size or larger? Possibly not.

Major case: If you are building a photo app and that app cannot interface with IE at all and you want to support IE users, then let them know.

In general

Always make these messages soft, inviting, and materially different to the look of a typical 'error' message. Unless your app's functionality is blocked due to the user's circumstances, the user should not be made to feel that things are wrong just because things aren't perfect.

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+1. Especially for the "the user should not be made to feel that things are wrong just because things aren't perfect." –  Marjan Venema Sep 17 '11 at 9:07
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Of course, B is to be avoided. B would be like this story : I walk next to the bike shop, to buy a bell for my bike, but I don't have my bike with me, so the shop becomes invisible, so I cannot go inside, and I cannot buy a bike bell.

A is less worse, but is bad too. You don't know all the devices that support some feature. Do not pretend to know the finite list of such devices. Anyone can invent a device any day, without telling you.

Let's suppose your app needs the client device to have a helium blazigaster. Let's say your app's detection routine does not find the needed feature. Say something like this to the user :

“Your iDevice / Web browser / whatever does not seem to support helium blazigastion. To fully enjoy the Space Travel 3000 game, you need to use a Web browser with helium blazigaster activated. We advise you to use the Web browser Safari 24+. Firefox 56+ is compatible too.”

The word seem is important. Your app does not detect the feature. Don't say the device does not have the feature. The feature can be simply turned off. And the detection routine you are using can be faillible.

In the old days, as a Mac user I was used to encountering Web sites telling me that my computer was not able to use them. Just because I wasn't using Internet Explorer for Windows. Whereas in fact my Mac Web browser was perfectly able to use the Web sites, and to run JavaScript and Flash…

You wouldn't want your users feel they are being despised by your app, would you ?

Check for features, do not check for applications.

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Oblivious. Unless that makes things look wrong, in which case a very subtle message. If someone is using a certain browser, for example, that is unlikely to change just because your site will be better using another browser. So simply hiding the more advanced features is the easiest way to make the UX for that user on that browser the best.

Providing somewhere that briefly explains that this app is optimsed for xxx is also a positive, and might encourage an upgrade. But to do this at the expense of the user interaction as it is seems to be a mistake.

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