Responsive Design vs. Mobile Sites vs. Native Mobile Apps: Which One’s the Best?

With constantly changing trends and a five fold increase in mobile Internet users, more and more companies are aiming to create sites which will make their services available to mobile users. It is a fact that what seems to be more important on a desktop might not be equally important or useful for a mobile user who is accessing the page on a much smaller screen and is on the go. This is why, thinking properly before you choose to build a site for smaller devices, for your company is important. Here you will also have a few different options. These three options are:

1. Responsive Web Design

A responsive website is basically a website which can adapt itself on different screens regardless of the device you are playing it on. You build one single responsive website and it resizes itself accordingly.

Boston Globe

The Boston Globe, for many, is the best example of responsive design – one that has noticeable performance, too. The loading speed of this website is 7.43 secs (GoMoMeter).

2. Mobile Sites

A mobile website is similar to a regular website and can be accessed with the help of different browsers, the only difference being it is created for small-screen devices. Mobile sites are optimized for on-the-go users, contain limited (or rather, necessary) content and are lighter and faster than responsive websites. m.yahoo.com, for example, is nearly 3 times lighter (Webpage Size Checker) and 4 times faster (GoMoMeter) than bostonglobe.com.

Yahoo! Mobile

3. Native Mobile Apps

Native apps are apps designed for mobile users, usually downloaded from a marketplace such as Google Play. There is a different native app for different platforms, requiring a new set of coding for each platform.


Last year, Facebook turned its back on the build-once-and-deploy-anywhere method (HTML5) and switched its iPhone app to native. Result: the social media giant finally got that long-sought nod from the users.

These three technologies help you gain a mobile presence for your business but each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. Getting to know each of them deeply is a good idea for making an informed choice.

Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Sites

When comparing these two, you really need to keep in mind as to what the purpose of the site is going to be. If it is a website aimed at providing its users a mobile experience which involves quick decisions and buying and selling, then a separate mobile site scores better on the charts. However, if you need to constantly add and update it with new trends, then a single responsive design site is a better option. This is because, when it comes to easy updating, mobile sites can be a pain because the site would need to be updated twice (desktop version and mobile version).

Also, it depends on what your budget is when you are planning to create a site. A mobile site requires low development charges compared to responsive design sites which need sophisticated coding and heavy technicalities. Other advantages that a separate mobile site holds over responsive design sites include DIY options and affordable web development. When it comes to optimization and SEO, and adding conversion and redirect codes, responsive design websites rule the roost.

Mobile Sites vs. Native Mobile Apps

Similar criteria as to what the aim of your site is, is needed when trying to compare mobile sites and native mobile apps. If your site is related to marketing and needs a wider reach, greater compatibility with browsers and devices and constant updating, than a mobile site will work better for you. However, if your site needs to interact with the users on a personal basis with a requirement of accessing the personal phone data, then a native app is a better idea.

Mobile sites are also a good option if you want your site to be easily accessible and shareable, and you want people to find it very easily. This is because mobile sites are easy to search and can be easily found through any browser. If your company is creating and promoting games, or your services involve reporting and calculations, then a native app works for you better. The area in which native apps are ahead include their ability to work even when there is no internet connection while the mobile sites cannot function in such a scenario. Native apps lag behind when it comes to the budget as they require a high development cost for creating a different set of various devices whereas mobile sites require a relatively low budget.

Responsive Web Design vs. Native Mobile Apps

Looking at the pros of responsive design compared to native apps is a good idea when comparing these two, as you have read about the pros of a native web app above. One advantage that responsive sites hold over the native apps is that there is no need for it to be downloaded from app stores and thus, doesn’t wait for its approval. Also, this makes the job of the user easier as now he or she doesn’t need to update the information again and again. All you need to do is update it once on your main website and the work is done.

The next advantage that a responsive website holds over native apps is the fact that there is cross-platform compatibility and content updates are driven by a Content Management System. The areas where a responsive site lags behind are similar to the mobile sites which include inability to work without an internet connection and a relatively low quality of user experience compared to native apps. One point that needs to be noted here is that both the options need a strong budget.

The above comparison clearly shows that there are pros and cons to each of the three choices that you have to create a mobile presence for your site. It depends on you and the nature of your business as to what would be the best fit for your situation. It’s better to research well and understand your own business for best results.

About the Author:

Diksha Arora is a writer/emarketer working with PixelCrayons, a Web/mobile development firm. Seeking native mobile app development or planning to hire mobile apps developer? Get in touch with PixelCrayons today!

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15 Responses

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  • ECTemplates, February 19, 2013

    I think Responsive Web Design wil be the best solution for mobile website design.

  • MrsGrapevine, February 19, 2013

    I am using Mobify with a custom design. So far it works great. But now that 30% of my traffic is from mobile devices, I want to make sure that I have the best layout.

  • peter, February 19, 2013

    Google’s recommended configuration:

    “Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. ”

    https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details

  • Arif, February 20, 2013

    ı prefer Mobify with a custom design for mobile sites.

  • Lina, February 20, 2013

    To my mind, to say which one is the best is impossible, each of them could be the best depending on the certain project, its goals, target group, etc. Furthermore, what is the best for a developer or a website’s owner doesn’t always mean it’s the best for the users. If you think to go mobile first of all you should think about a mobile strategy and what path is the best for it. I’ve written about it some time ago:

    http://www.thelittlebluedot.com/blog-web-design-wordpress/mobile-websites/mobile-web-strategy/

  • Rich C, February 20, 2013

    I think responsive web design has it’s place but it still can’t do what a native apps can.

  • Anton, February 21, 2013

    We build mainly responsive websites as it’s by far the most scale-able solution. It’s also cost effective when you compare it with building a website plus 2 flavours of native apps.

  • smith web designing sri lanka, February 21, 2013

    Hi. whats the best responsive frame work?

  • Flexbox, February 25, 2013

    Hi,
    I think foundation by zurb is one of the best responsive framework
    http://foundation.zurb.com/docs/index.php

  • Rob Willox, February 25, 2013

    As the article implies and the point made by another contributor it is ‘horses for courses’ and dependent on the purpose and function of the website in question.

    As an example from own client base and brought on by being forced to use my mobile phone for a couple of days the importance of having some form of ‘mobile-friendly’ site became clear. It was also surprising just how many large/major sites had not yet addressed the problem.

    On checking there was a clear split of device types using different types of site. Surprisingly, it was client ecommerce sites that showed the lowest increase year on year of mobile visitor increases with these being primarily in the tablet sized devices.

    The biggest smartphone increases were more related to local/tourism focused sites perhaps for obvious reasons being used primarily for locating ‘bricks & mortar’ outlets. One tourism attraction site saw a 730%+ increase almost all smartphone devices: http://blog.web-media.co.uk/web-design/responsive-design-data-disaster-highlights-its-value/

    My view would be, at least in the short-term, to look very closely at your own mobile stats and make decisions based on what is best to satisfy the needs of your own customers.

  • Al Johnson, June 3, 2013

    Especially for local business I would go with the m. as most people are simply looking for direction or a phone number. I use my phone all the time just for that reason and also to look at reviews which is why places is a great place to begin.

  • Ilan Perez, June 6, 2013

    What does this blog use? Definitely not responsive…

    nice article none the less.

    Thanks

    Ilan

  • mobile phones, June 14, 2013

    buy and sell electronics, watches, mobile phones, blackberry in south africa

  • Mickey Mixon, June 28, 2013

    With the presentation of this article I will rather go for responsive mobile design.

  • Shophina, July 23, 2013

    As said ‘one size does not fit for all’, it is difficult to say which one is best. It depends on situation. Although I love the responsive design but it can not fit in all situation. Each one have their own pros and cons.

    Thanks for sharing such informative article as it clear some my doubt between mobile website and native app.