You probably pay little attention to game console browsers. While many households own a Wii, Xbox or Playstation, few use the devices to access the web. It’s not surprising:
- Console controls are clunky. Using a Wii remote or joypad to type URLs and navigate pages is not easy.
- Console browsers can be woeful. They’re slow, buggy, and rarely support modern standards or Flash.
- For quick browsing, it’s more convenient to use a smartphone or tablet.
According to StatCounter, the Sony PS3 accounts for just 0.1% of all web activity. Wii and Xbox browsers don’t even appear in the chart, although that’s possibly because they’re intermingled with Opera and IE9 statistics. But even the most optimistic console user would not expect heavy web usage. Unless you’re designing a console-specific website, there’s usually little reason to consider console browsers.
Could that situation be about to change?
Console manufacturers have been losing ground to mobile gaming. While they are different contexts, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have realized that the days of dedicated household gaming machines are numbered. The companies are rapidly moving toward multi-use entertainment devices which feature games, on-demand video (NetFlix, BBC iPlayer etc.), apps, social media and mobile phone integration. New machines will include increased web connectivity; Sony’s recent PS4 announcement stated that gamers can share the last few minutes of play as an online video (just what we need — more awful gaming clips!)
The next generation devices are powerful enough to run multiple functions at a time; it’s inevitable that better web browsers are coming. And don’t forget the web is device agnostic; we should not be restricting access just because someone chooses to use a console.
Coding for consoles is likely to be more difficult than mobile:
- Screens may have a high resolution (or even ultra-high definition), but users sit further away and controls are less precise. Typical media queries may not offer a robust solution especially when the browsers rarely support CSS features such as “tv” media.
- There will be additional challenges to support features such as touchscreen and 3D.
- Text may need to be more concise than even that displayed on mobile devices.
- Browsing could become a more collaborative, family-orientated pursuit.
The the Wii U, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 successor and the Android-based Ouya may all be available by the end of 2013. Some households will choose to replace their aging PC with a more consumer-friendly console and tablet.
There won’t be an overnight migration but the current low level of console browsing is almost certain to rise.
What Should we do?
For the moment, however, there’s little we can do but wait until we have further clarification of next generation console capabilities. But keep a close eye on the gaming market, especially if you’re operating a site aimed at home users.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.