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Understand mobile site approaches: dedicated, responsive, adaptive

The structure and design of your site can have a dramatic effect on its performance. This article outlines the pros and cons of various implementations, with particular attention paid to the responsive approach.

When Steve Jobs touted the original iPhone, he pointed out how it could load the full desktop version of the New York Times. At the time, most publishers had created feature- and content-light websites designed for a streamlined mobile experience. Mobile-dedicated sites still exist, but suffer from the drawback of not sharing code with the organization’s main site. And some publishers still push the full desktop site to mobile devices, but users often find full-sites too complex, slow and tedious when used on phones. As a result, two alternatives have taken hold:

  1. One is the “responsive” site, where a single set of code powers the desktop and the mobile experience. The code “responds” to the device it is on and alters the presentation accordingly. Because this takes extra code, responsive sites can sometimes be complex in structure and slow to load. But, they can also be easier to maintain than two separate sets of code.
  2. An alternative are “adaptive” sites, which are similar to “responsive” sites in that they are based on a single set of code, but are optimized for pre-determined screen sizes. Adaptive sites load only the necessary code for the device viewing the page, and as a result are often faster to load, but less flexible, than responsive pages.