I was tinkering with my Lumia 520 last week while I was checking analytics for my company’s Homestead.com website and was surprised to discover that my phone was recognized as a personal computer. Actually it thinks my 520 is a Windows 8 PC running IE10 with a 480 x 800 resolution. This was with IE on my phone set to desktop mode I did a Live Chat with Homestead and was told their analytics are powered by some homebrew concoction, not Google Analytics for example. At least that’s what they told me.

 

When I changed the phone to mobile mode, Homestead did recognize my device as a Nokia 520, using IE 10 at 480 x 800. I then decided to try my Lumia 900, set to desktop mode, and Homestead identified it as a Windows 7 personal computer running IE9 at 480 x 800. Interesting.

Today, I decided to check my Surface RT to see what Homestead would think it is. Running IE from the desktop, I was identified as a Windows 8 personal computer, running IE10 a 1366 x 768. Running IE from the Start Screen everything was the same. except the resolution was identified as 1093 x 614. Not sure why.

 

Finally, it was my Lumia 1020s turn. Despite my attempts to check it in both desktop and mobile mode, Homestead would not relinquish the original connection, despite me changing from WiFi to LTE, restarting my desktop web browser, restarting the phone, waiting 15 minutes, clearing the phones browser history, etc. On both my L520 and the Surface, all I had to do was make a change on the device and it was immediately recognized as a different device on the Homestead site. Maybe it will change tomorrow. Anyway, with the 1020 set to desktop mode (my default), Homestead thought I was a Windows 8 personal computer, running IE10 at 768 x 1280.

 

So, what’s the point. Well, I know this is a very, very small sampling of what analytic tools are picking up. Anecdotal so to speak. But Homestead does host something like 10,000+ websites. How many other hosting sites are misinterpreting Windows devices analytics. When I first started using Homestead with my Windows 8 desktop, I had some connection issues, so I set the browser to compatibility mode. It was a month before I discovered that my desktop was being recognized as a personal computer running IE7. Removing compatibility mode set it back to IE10. Could misinterpreted analytics be skewing numbers regarding Windows Phone, Windows 8 and IE10 adoption. I don’t know. Below is an example of tablet visits for the past few days. Notice that my two Surface visits today were not picked up, because it was detected as a personal computer. This could give other platforms an erroneous edge.

I am not suggesting that the analytic data put out each month is bogus. But with Windows Phone scraping for every 0.1%, the info being provided could be skewed by several percent, especially if assumptions are being made. As is often the case when actual sales numbers are not disclosed. Simply keeping your phone in desktop mode, which I do most of the time, may prevent your device from being detected by some analytic tools.

I don’t have an answer, and have no idea why this is the way it is. Nor do I know if this will ever change. What I do know is that the data I am looking at is not very accurate. And that’s not a good thing.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Desktop vs mobile website rendering is accomplished by manipulating the user agent string presented to the server in the http header. This is exactly the way it SHOULD work. Any browser that allows manipulation of this string can skew your results if user agent is deterministic in your metrics.

  2. Thanks for clearing that up. So my understanding then is this is a Microsoft problem. Because iPads are always iPads and iPhones are always iPhones. Microsoft needs to change the way Windows tablets, for example, convey their identity through the user agent. Ok, new rant coming soon I guess.

  3. This is not the Microsoft fault. HTTP user agent string can be any text that tells server about general info of web browser. Most web administrator can collect this information by test with real device to know the user agent string for that device.

    Any web programmer can craw other website content by simulate his server request as real web browser. This is the normal thing as I can use my name as user agent string and also assign the fake device display resolution.

  4. Ok, so then this is the responsibility of the web host, Homestead in this case, to interpret the information supplied by the user agent string, dropping the connected device into a pre-defined category. Apple iPhone for example. But, if no effort is made to identify these devices I have to assume that they all will be dumped into a single category like personal computer. Let’s assume Homestead is selling their analytical data, which represents many millions of clicks per month, to some service that compiles this info along with data from many other web hosts. In the case of Homestead, not a single Surface device would have been recorded last month, although we know that not to be true.

    And as I have already determined with three different Windows Phones, when browsing in desktop mode, Homestead always interprets these devices as being PCs. If the WP user agent string is designed to always display that way in desktop mode, and assuming that 25% of all Windows Phone users keep their browser set to desktop mode (as I do) all the time, is it not feasible that some WPs are not being reported accurately. Or, would it be safe to assume if someone analyzing this data saw a Windows PC with a screen resolution of 480 x 800, they would interpret that as being a mobile device and adjust accordingly.

    I get the feeling that as Windows Phones, and even Windows tablets, are not all that mainstream yet, those doing the analyzing are not making much of an effort to identify these devices accurately. The result is underreporting in various categories. Don’t think you will ever read about that anywhere, but if numbers suddenly spike one month, you will know why.

    Btw, Homestead finally picked up my Lumia 1020 in mobile mode. It’s a Nokia 909. Close enough.

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