Mobile v Responsive Web Design

by Jan 28, 2015TechTalk

With all the talk about mobile and responsive websites, you might be wondering about upgrading your own site. But how do you decide which way to go? If you aren’t sure or if you just want a little better understanding of the difference between the two approaches, you’ve come to the right place.

I recently put together this compare and contrast study to help my clients make that very decision. Maybe it will help you too. Or maybe you have other ideas. Let me know in the comments!

Comparing and Contrasting Mobile Website Design and Responsive Website Design


How It Works

A mobile website is designed specifically for mobile devices and is a completely separate website from a traditional desktop site. That means there are two sets of content hosted on the web server that are delivered to the user based on whether they’re trying to access your website from a desktop computer or a mobile device.A responsive website is designed to adapt to a range of different sized devices. It’s one website. That means there is one set of content hosted on the web server. The content is sent out to every device that makes a request and each device displays the pages appropriately for its size based on included instructions.

User Experience

Because mobile design targets only one screen size, mobile users will have a great site experience optimized specifically for their device; design can be fairly precise in terms of content placement and layout, similar to the fixed width experience that’s familiar with a traditional desktop website.Because responsive design typically targets 3 to 5 different device sizes, users of a wider range of devices—mobile, tablet, desktop—will enjoy a great experience; the design is more fluid and content placement and layout are less precise and more flexible.

Upfront Costs

The upfront cost to design a mobile only site may be about the same as the cost to design a new website from scratch. Obviously, costs are subject to the complexity of project scope and timeline.The upfront cost to design a responsive site from scratch may be about 50% more than or as much as double the cost of a mobile or traditional fixed width website because of the complexity of development—the more device sizes targeted, the greater the amount of work required. If working with a CMS like WordPress, there can be cost savings if a well-supported theme is used because of reduced complexity. However, some design flexibility will be lost by using a theme.

Ongoing Maintenance & Expenses

A mobile site may have more ongoing expenses simply because there will be two separate websites to maintain—the main static desktop site and the dedicated mobile site.A responsive site may have smaller ongoing expenses since there’s only one website to maintain. Where maintenance costs can run higher is if there’s a change in content strategy that affects design.

Ready for the Future

A mobile dedicated site may need to be reworked in order to stay current with next-generation phones and mobile e.g. Apple just released two new device sizes with iPhone 6.Responsive site design technology is more forward-thinking because once a site is configured it will work on most any handheld mobile device or desktop computer for years to come.

Website Promotion & Analytics

With a mobile site, you must create a different domain name (typical mobile naming convention would be to be in conformance with Google. This means having to promote more than one website address in your marketing. Google supports mobile optimized websites.A responsive site requires just one domain which makes it easier for users to share, link to and interact with your content. And Google recommends responsive web design because it helps its algorithms, reduces site loading time versus a mobile dedicated site and helps Google index more of the site’s content.

Mobile sites can be a great solution if you have a large, traditional website with a lot of back-end complexities that would make it prohibitively expensive to redesign as a responsive site right now—I’m talking hundreds of pages of content and complex database functionalities. Starting fresh with a mobile-only site and keeping your legacy website in traditional desktop format for a while longer may be the best answer.

A mobile site can also be a smart choice if the goal is to sell a fairly large inventory of products and, again, has a fairly complex back-end. Desktop sites display relatively well on standard-sized tablets. But can be really difficult to navigate when trying to make purchases on a mobile phone. And you don’t want to let anything stand in the way of customers making a purchase.

For many businesses with websites that are less complex or, alternatively, outdated beyond the possibility of a redesign, a responsive website likely makes the most sense. It offers more flexibility, adaptability and, therefore, sustainability than a mobile site can. And it can handle all the interactive features you could want in a fairly straightforward business website including online purchasing, an events calendar, videos or other interactive features that are important for keeping site visitors informed and engaged. With a responsive site, customers will have easy access to all your website has to offer whether they’re on their desktop in the office or an iPad or mobile device when on the go.