Google and the 3DS browser

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I recently updated my 3DS XL console's software and this evening I was having a look at what was new in the browser. It started by asking me if I wanted Yahoo or Google as the default search engine. I tapped Google and searched for my site. Then the 24 Ways site. The first thing I noticed was that CSS and Javascript weren't loading anywhere.

How the 24 Ways site was displaying on the 3DS after the update

After checking I hadn't turned anything off in the settings, and doing some searching to see if anyone had mentioned it, I asked on Twitter to see if anyone else was having the same problem

Thomas Beduneau replied saying he couldn't see any problems on his browser. So I tried just typing in a link rather than searching Google for one, and the site showed up how I'd expected it to.

How the 24 Ways site is displayed on the 3DS when the link is typed in rather than searched on Google

I asked Thomas to try what I'd done, and sure enough, he saw what I was seeing too.

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. Why?

I guess they're trying to be helpful to users of devices that wouldn't normally be able to cope with complex websites. The 3DS browser is not as capable as most smart phones, but it's actually not that bad either, for a console browser.

It used to run an Opera browser, but now it's a Netfront one that's been improving over the years. It uses its own typeface for sites to make them easier to read on the pixellated screen, and it handles layout ok.

The old A List Apart website on the 3DS XL

There are also a lot of features built into it to make browsing pages easier, like you can turn off layout in the settings if you want to, and text can wrap so it's not longer than the viewport.

So I'd be really interested to know the thinking behind why Google have done this. Is it just over-zealous browser sniffing, or do they really think the 3DS's browser isn't good enough to show sites as they were designed? And if it is intentional and something Google will continue doing, I guess it's another good example of why progressive enhancement is still so important.