This is not a new topic on this blog by a long shot. We have talked about responsive design, the need to do mobile, and mobile sites versus native apps. Even though it has been talked about a lot, it remains one of the hot topics of conversation with many of our clients. So we aim to help clarify the issue.
A website employing responsive design can re-arrange to accommodate a wide range of visitors, from full-size desktop machines to tablets to smart phones. So if your site is www.example.com, and you visit it, no matter from what device, you will see a layout that works for that device.
A mobile website is an additional website that is specialized for small screens, mainly smart phones. Generally speaking if your website is www.example.com, your mobile site is m.example.com. Again, generally speaking, when mobile devices are detected at www.example.com, they are redirected to m.example.com.
Native apps are different than responsive and mobile, in that to use them, you get them from the app area on your smart phone or tablet. For example, Google Play for Android or the Apple App Store for iOS devices. Native apps have the advantage of being able to access things on the phone like the camera or contacts.
Which one is better?
That is the big question and unfortunately the answer is: “it all depends”.
If you site is mostly static content, a mobile website is easiest option. Generally this option will have the greatest compatibility with all mobile browsers and will perform pretty well across the board. The downside is that you now have two sites, which means in some cases, two sites to update if a change is made.
If you update your site somewhat often, responsive design is nice; it’s one site to update. Responsive is often the best option for serious SEO campaigns as well. As far as effort is concerned, generally it’s more effort than a mobile site but less than a native app.
If you need to use the features of the phone, like the camera, accelerometer, or have it download some stuff and work with limited connectivity, this is the ticket. While the most effort of all of these three, it allows the most integration into the phone.