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Driving Force Blog

  • The Great Debate. Responsive or Adaptive?

    Friday, October 03, 2014

    Just another fad?

    Currently there is much discussion about the superiority of responsive websites to other web designs.  To help clarify this conversation it’s beneficial to understand to basic principle of this strategy.  It’s all about mobile!  As mobile usage explodes, it’s critical that websites satisfy the needs of site visitors.

    A few facts.

    91% of all people on earth have a mobile phone

    56% of people own a smart phone

    50% of mobile phone users, use mobile as their primary Internet source

    72% of tablet owners purchase online from their tablets each week

    83% of US smartphone owners use their smartphones in-store

    The easiest way to think about responsive websites is “One Size Fits All”.  When the site is accessed it reconfigures itself to fit the device.  Meaning every bit of content and every url is there, no matter if the visitor is on a desktop or a handheld.  Content is resized and repositioned based on the size of the screen being viewed on.  For some websites and certain businesses this is the perfect solution. 

    Before jumping on the responsive bandwagon it’s important to understand the impact of this strategy.  For web developers, responsive is a welcome solution.  One code base!  The adaptive strategy requires two or three different code bases.  When a site visitor accesses an adaptive website, the server that hosts the site recognizes what kind of device is being used and directs the traffic to the optimized code base.  So, responsive is easier for the web developer to maintain.  Good for them, but what about the site visitor?   The end user?  The critical reason the site exists?  For illustration purposes, think about desktop computers, tablets and smart phones as pipes.  Plumbing pipes.  The bigger the pipe, the easier it is for water to flow, right?  With Responsive design there is one code base no matter the device.  It can’t help but perform slower on a smart phone than it does on a desktop.  This can be as much as 3-4 seconds slower.  Mobile visitors are looking for quick access to information.  They will only wait so long.  If what should take 2-3 seconds now takes 6-7, they will jump to another site.  Another very important consideration, does the mobile user want all the same information and functionality that the mobile user does?  Of course not.  The behaviors of the mobile user are far different from the desktop user.  So why load all the same widgets, information, images, etc into a mobile site when the user won’t use it.  It overloads the delivery.  Conversely, there could be information and features that a mobile user wants that have no purpose on a desktop.  Common sense tells us that the best solution is to provide an optimized experience to the user based on their device.  And this optimization needs to be based on performance and behavior.  A potentially dangerous byproduct of loading these larger and heavier pages into a user’s mobile phone is potential cost.  This page size could turn out to be expensive for users loading responsive sites on a 3g network.  A dealership website page can realistically average around 6 MB.  If user on 300MB data plan and browses 10 pages on this website they already used up 20% of their monthly data. Does developing an optimized multi-screen solution create more work for the web developer?  Yes.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!

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