Mobile Theme or Responsive Design: Which one is Ahead and Why

Sep 18, 2017 10:03:17 AM

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Mobile phones are smart, ubiquitous, and surely an essential. From reacting to shopping whim or analyzing the market stats, they are complementing the everyday tasks, on the go.

The latest data shows that mobile digital media in the US is now significantly higher at 51% compared to the desktop (42%). Being a part of the mobile first era, building mobile-friendly websites is a must-have component to make the businesses reach the targeted audience in the most prominent manner.

Therefore, an obvious question that strikes the mind when building any website is if it should use a Mobile theme or a Responsive design. In the following segment, I am going to highlight some important differences between Mobile theme and Responsive design that will help you to make an informed decision. But before we dig deeper, let’s get into the basics and understand what exactly Mobile and Responsive themes are.

Mobile Theme:  The mobile theme is basically a different theme or we can say a different website from desktop theme or website. It can be developed within the same technology or different. The code and styling (CSS) of the Mobile theme is completely different from desktop one. So if you want to have on Mobile version, lighter content, different layout (but the same identity), go with a separate mobile version.

The advantage of the Mobile Theme:

1. Mobile theme code is different from the desktop theme. Therefore, we can easily remove/add functionalities from the mobile theme.
2. It doesn't matter what programming language you are using for your desktop site; you can develop the mobile site in different programming language.

The disadvantage of the Mobile Theme:  

1.  After initial development and styling of the mobile theme, we need to spend extra time and money to update the mobile theme. If we want to revise any functionality or information, then we need to update content in two places, mobile theme (website) as well as in desktop theme (website).

2. If the mobile website has a different URL like m.domainname.com, then the search engine may or may not find it. It may consider two different URL.

Responsive Web Design:  Responsive Web Design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at allowing desktop web pages to be viewed in response to the size of the screen or web browser. So if you want to have exactly the same website, content, and design available for both mobile and desktop, go with the responsive theme.

The Advantages of Responsive Design:

1.  As there is only one website, you need to pay only for one website for hosting, development, designing, and maintenance. You are saving your money and time both.
2.  We can decide what we want to appear on smaller devices and where we want it to appear using CSS only. We can easily hide any content using CSS only and don't need to modify  the code.

The disadvantage of Responsive Design:

1. If you don't want to show any particular code then you can only hide code but code is rendered in the backend, that may result in slow performance.

What’s the difference between Mobile Theme and Responsive Design:

1. Mobile themes detect the user’s device and display a theme whereas Responsive design detect the width of the screen and display the site within those parameters.

2. In case you went with a mobile theme approach, you’ll need to do everything twice, once for your desktop theme and once for your mobile theme. Since we’re looking at two different themes independent of each other whereas in case you went with a responsive design approach, there would only be one theme to take care of all of the changes that are applied to this one theme. No need for double work.

3. The responsive website has one set of URLs, one set of URLs is a huge SEO benefit. This means that all backlinks, on all devices point to your main domain, no "m." subdomains are involved. A mobile site may have the different set of URLs and if it is so, then it is not good for SEO.

4. The most positive thing can come from having a dedicated set of theme files for all mobile devices is Speed as you can remove code which is not needed but in responsive all codes are rendered which may affect the website performance.

5. If you do A/B testing or execute any front end test suites for Quality Acceptance, the mobile theme is definitely a bad idea whereas in the responsive design you can easily do A/B testing.

6.  eCommerce Platforms like Magento, PrestaShop where often we use many extensions even in the front end of the website which impacts on some design changes, it is not easy to implement this in Mobile Theme/Mobile version of the website, you may need to build these extension features from scratch.

Conclusion:

Responsive Design is better option when you are using third party extensions in front end.
Generally, we saw that websites on a large scale, with a lot of content, go with separate versions and if your website is not huge, you can build it responsive.

Some famous website using Mobile theme are: facebook.com, twitter.com, linkedin.com, google.com, amazon.com

Those having Responsive websites are: microsoft.com, sony.com, http://www.disney.in, http://time.com/, https://www.starbucks.com

So, the ball is in your court now. Understand your project, the SEO aspects, possibilities, limitations, and decide upon the best option to give your users the best web experience on mobile.

Topics: UI/UX

Ankita Agrawal

Written by Ankita Agrawal

Ankita Agrawal is leading Magento team and providing best in class e-commerce products and aimed at client satisfaction. She is very good at innovating and implementing latest marketplace solutions. Having a great experience of providing customized and featured products, she fits best for handling higher complexity projects.