How to view desktop versions of websites on an iPhone

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Reader Tom Sidla prefers one view of websites over another. He writes:

I hate mobile websites. Is there any way to always see the full desktop version on the iPhone?

I can’t promise you always, but I get deliver “more often than not.” It’s like this.

Generally, websites will configure their look based on the kind of browser you’re using—specifically, the browser agent. When you visit a site, your browser reports its identity. If it identifies itself as the desktop version of Safari, for example, you see one view. If it reveals that it’s the version of Safari used by iOS devices, you may see a different layout that better suits small screens. Some sites will allow you to choose something other than the default view, but this isn’t a feature implemented web-wide.

In order for this to work you have to trick a site into revealing its other face. And to do that you instruct your iPhone’s web browser to pretend that it was designed for a desktop computer rather than a mobile device.

Regrettably, mobile Safari can’t do this. I don’t know if it’s an integrity issue where Safari can’t stand to tell a lie or what, but it will always reveal its true identity. So, on that front, you’re stymied.

mercury agent

Unlike mobile Safari, the Mercury and Atomic web browsers can disguise their identity.

Thankfully Safari isn’t the only fish in the sea. Third-party browsers including the Mercury web browser and the $1.99 version of the Atomic web browser have the ability to disguise themselves as different kinds of browsers. In each, simply tap on Settings, select User Agent, and choose one of the other offered agents (the OS X version of Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer, for example).

As I suggested earlier, this will cause sites to reveal their desktop interface most of the time. However, there are some websites (this very one, for example) that will ignore these false faces. Visit with your iPhone and regardless of how a browser identifies itself, you’ll always see the mobile version of the site.

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