I field the question often when we’re in the early stages of a discovery project with clients:
Should I have a mobile website? What about a Mobile App? What does ‘Responsive Website’ mean?
If you’re about to start a new web project, and have been struggling with how to handle mobile visitors, this article should provide you with clarity on the topic.
Before we can get too deep into the comparison I’d like to build a solid foundation so that you clearly understand what the 3 different options have to offer.
Mobile websites were historically, how organizations and groups made their first step into mobile content. Well over 10 years ago, mobile technologies were still young, and at the time it was considered acceptable to build a completely different, standalone version of your website for mobile devices.
The idea is a visitor would visit your website and if the website detected you were on a mobile website, it would redirect you to the mobile version of the website, typically at an address like http://m.example.com.
This typically meant that your content was duplicated, and often times modified to fit mobile devices. A few years later platforms emerged where you could use the same content for both versions of your websites, however these platforms were generally late to the game as a new technology was maturing: Responsive Web Design.
In general, developing a mobile website is an outdated approach that has since been replaced by other technologies. Let’s look a bit deeper at the pros and cons.
A responsive website, which is a derived from the concept of Responsive Web Design, is a website that is built to seamlessly and effectively adapt to any device, regardless of mobility.
In other words:
A responsive website will look great on all screens, from very wide desktops to tiny smartphones.
As Responsive Web Design matured as a concept, and with it processes and concrete solutions, it quickly gained traction and replaced Mobile Websites (as discussed above) as the de facto standard for mobile web design.
In 2016 you are hard pressed to find websites that are optimized for mobile devices that aren’t built with this concept, and it has evolved and matured into a very stable process.
At the heart of Responsive Web Design and responsive websites is the concept that the user experience is optimized for the user based on their device dimensions. This means that the very same website you load on a 24” iMac will be as useable to you as it is to someone who loads it up on an iPhone 6S+ while traveling abroad.
Let’s now take a look at the pros and cons of Responsive Web Design.
Mobile Apps are technically very different from the other two options we’ve discussed, but they serve a very similar purpose: Optimize the user experience for mobile devices.
In the context of Mobile Websites and Responsive Websites, we are typically optimizing for mobile devices. We have a goal of minimizing development costs while allowing the largest portion of mobile users the ability to use the website. In the context of Mobile Apps, we are optimizing specifically for a particular device or platform.
A platform is the base software that runs on mobile devices. iPhones and iPads share the same platform (iOS), and many Android phones and tablets share the same platform, Android.
To develop a Mobile App (more specifically a native mobile app), you need a specialized team that can build your Mobile App for the specific platform you are targeting, and often times if you are targeting more than one platform, you might require the support of multiple teams or vendors.
As professionals in the field of web design and digital marketing, I invite you to reach out to my team if you require support as you plan your next important digital project. Sometimes the path to take isn’t as always as clear based on the circumstance, so if you have any questions about the topics and technologies discussed in this article, please reach out to us.