Blog: News, views and some opinionated commentary from the team at Mecca Medialight


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Thinking small and mobile...

It's no secret that the popularity and proliferation of mobile devices has meant many businesses need to rethink their digital and online strategies.

So what are the main options? Does everyone really need an app in the iTunes store? Is it a good idea to create a different version of your website for mobile? Does responsive design solve all these problems?

1. Responsive web design

The terms 'Responsive web design' refers to a technique that enables websites to adapt and rearrange themselves on different screens to provide optimal viewing and user experience across a range of different devices. This means the same content presents itself differently when viewed on a desktop, iPad or phone. For example, our site will attempt to rearrange itself in a sensible way when being view with iPhones and iPads and other small screen devices.

2. Mobile sites

Mobile sites are essentially websites built specifically for mobile devices. Thus the layout is optimised for small screens, and the images and multimedia kept to a minimum to reduce bandwidth demands. The UI is design specifically for fat fingers and - when done well - for gestures (slide and swipe).

3. Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are applications designed for mobile devices. They need to be downloaded and installed on user's devices before they can deliver content, but once installed, offer potentially a far more richer interaction with users.

If we take responsive web design as the baseline for cost, then (generally speaking) creating a second mobile site will be more expensive and a mobile app the most expensive. The following table attempts to summarise the relative benefits and promise of the three approaches:

Costs

Responsive Site
Cheapest
Mobile Site
Expensive
Mobile App
Most Expensive

Getting Published

Responsive Site
Easy
Mobile Site
Easy
Mobile App
May require approval process

Functionality

Responsive Site
Generally comparable to 'destktop website'
Mobile Site
Potentially some limitations compared to 'destktop website' (especially if plugins such as Flash are used)
Mobile App
Some functionality may be omitted, either for technical reasons or user-case reasons

Featureset

Responsive Site
Generally comparable to 'destktop website'
Mobile Site
Generally comparable to 'destktop website' but may make better (more targetted) use of available features for mobile device
Mobile App
Location services, push notification, access to camera, and other phone features

Internet Connection

Responsive Site
Required
Mobile Site
Required
Mobile App
Content can be made available offline

User Interface

Responsive Site
Reasonable optimisation for mobile device, limited capacity for interaction
Mobile Site
Better optimisation for mobile device, limited capacity for interaction.
Mobile App
Highly interactive and optimised for mobile device

Monetization

Responsive Site
Difficult
Mobile Site
Difficult
Mobile App
Most Easy

Websites that are responsive provide a good starting point - the opporunity to get your back-office working smoothly, publishing content and engaging with people using mobile devices. If budget is not an issue, then by all means make your main site responsive, create a mobile site for phones and an app so you can target users by location and send push notifications. However, if budget is limited, attempting too much and doing it poorly can be a big step backwards: Apps that offer nothing more than a responsive or mobile site are rarely received well. Mobile sites that lack key features provided by the main site, or become out of date as they miss out on the updates on the main site, can frustrate users.