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Mobile Website Design Mini-Course Volume III: Responsive vs. Independent

There are two basic tactics for mobile website design. The first one allows for the same site to be used for both desktop and mobile purposes — it’s called responsive design because the website queries the device that is searching it, and responds with the correct level of content and size. The second isn’t called anything, because it’s basically just creating an entirely new website and just designing it to be appropriate for mobile sites.

Responsive Websites
In a responsive design site, the webpage sends out a CSS media query to the surfing device, asking it about things like it’s screen size. The CSS then changes based on the results of the query to show the page differently to different devices. The advantages of responsive design are huge:

  • Your unified the same time.

Independent Websites
We’ll call them ‘independent’ websites because their content can and does change independently from their desktop kin. There are certain advantages that independent sites have over responsive sites:

  • Independent sites are faster-loading and lower bandwidth because they’re not constantly downloading oodles of HTML that the end user will never see because the responsive CSS hides it from them.
  • An independent website will work on any mobile device’s web browser — some older mobile browsers don’t support CSS queries and thus can’t effectively communicate with a responsive page.
  • Independent sites can be programmed to use a variety of mobile-only assets like geolocation and touch screens that wouldn’t make sense if the page were loaded on a desktop

In the end, responsive websites are probably more ‘future friendly’ — but independent websites are nicer to the end user. Which one of those is more important to your business, well, that depends on your business. Both are currently in wide usage and neither one seems to be meaningfully giving ground to the other.

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