Mobile Sites, Responsive Sites and Apps… Oh My!

According to an article from earlier this year in the Washington Post, ‘Mobile Internet use will continue to surge over the next five years, at a rate of 66 percent each year.’ Obviously the mobile movement has been here since the launch of the first iPhone, but this means it is overwhelmingly here to stay and some believe will replace the desktop computer for a majority of users.

How does your customer experience your website on a mobile device? Does your site look small, is the content clear, can the user navigate the content with ease? Your mobile users want a clean and well-defined experience just as they expect from a desktop computer. You can accomplish it several different ways, each with its own benefits and drawbacks, and each with its own cost.

Mobile Site:
A mobile version is similar to your website in that it will consist of the same content, but created for optimal viewing on your mobile phone or tablet. Cost can be controlled a bit easier than other approaches. However this site will need to be managed separately from your regular site since it is a completely unique site.

Mobile Application:

A mobile application or app is created separately from your website as well, but will be downloaded by the user from an app store, such as iTunes, or from your website. Apps are capable to have very robust designs, can be extremely user-friendly, and can be accessed offline. The user will have to download upgrades to receive any new content, so quick updates are not likely to happen. Apps are usually best for specific situations and not necessary for a mobile website. They are meant to be very interactive and have the option to push content out to users via notifications (should the user choose to accept).

Responsive/Adaptive Website:

Responsive or Adaptive website design means building your website to work on multiple platforms without having to maintain separate websites. In other words, your website will respond or adapt to the way in which a viewer visits your site. You will maintain one website, but will look like you have created multiple versions of your site.

A responsive site will adjust the content on the screen to fit the layout of the device you are using. An adaptive site will not only fit the screen, but can change the presentation by adding or removing content based on the platform you are using.

You can retrofit an existing website but it is not a complete solution, in that you will be limited to what you can and cannot do. The optimal solution is to start from scratch and create a new responsive or adaptive website.

Which is the best for you, a mobile website or an app or a responsive website? There is no right or wrong answer each is dependent on your current site, customer base, budget and goal. That being said, in the long run – a responsive, or better yet a fully adaptive website – would be the best solution. However, creating one will come with a price and a high level of commitment. The best approach is to start by thinking what your users want and what will ultimately fulfill their needs when it comes to viewing your product or service on the web.

[Thanks to our friends with NetGalaxy Studios for the use of their infographic.]