Which is Better: Dedicated or Responsive Mobile Design?

Written by Carrie Cousins on 13 Mar 2013
31,076 Views • Mobile Development


So you are thinking about building a new website (or revising an old one).

Have you considered mobile? It should be at the top of your list.

But what type of mobile scheme is best? Do you opt for a dedicated mobile site or a responsive design that works for mobile? The answer may be different for each project. There is no clear winner in the fight between dedicated mobile and responsive mobile. What is most important is that you at least consider mobile for every design project.

Differences in Mobile and Responsive Design

Small-scale websites that are built just for mobile devices are growing in number all the time. So is the number of different options for creating these types of websites. The top options are to create a dedicated mobile site the a mobile URL – commonly the full URL preceded by “m.” or “mobile.” – or to create a fully responsive design that adjusts for mobile users.

A dedicated mobile site is just that – a site that is different from your website that is viewed on mobile devices. When a browser detects the mobile device, a redirect switches the user to the mobile site. The idea is that the mobile version of a website is smaller, reads better on the small screen and is optimized to load quickly. The content is often somewhat different than the desktop web counterpart.

Responsive design is less of a mobile strategy and more of a complete web theme for a variety of viewing options and devices. Websites created with responsive design schemes, adjust to the environment of the user, from varying browser widths to different devices, with a single design scheme and URL.

Both options have pros and cons and either can work for most any project. To determine what will work best, it is good to understand each.

Advantages of Dedicated Mobile

Dedicated mobile sites tend to be fast – very fast. That is the No. 1 reason they are used.

Navigation is simple. Many dedicated mobile sites are built around navigation, making them easy to use and understand.

Because mobile-only sites tend to be simpler versions of a full site, they can often be built and launched quickly. A dedicated mobile site can also be a great add-on if a mobile component is need for an already active website.

Additional mobile-specific features such as one-tap phone dialing and geolocation services can be implemented just for those devices.

The site only has to be designed with touch in mind since mobile users don't actually click.

Development can be quick and fairly inexpensive.

Disadvantages of Dedicated Mobile

Dedicated mobile sites require multiple URLs for each page that is optimized for mobile. This results in redirects, potential search engine optimization issues and the potential for errors between devices.

Dedicated sites often look, feel and function in a very different manner than the full site. This is not necessarily wrong, but users are more and more beginning to expect a universal experience.

Creating a separate mobile site, means content has to be replaced, changed and updated in multiple locations. This content forking can be difficult to manage.

Advantages of Responsive

Your site has a single URL. One URL is simple and easy when it comes to sharing and linking. It also makes tracking and analytics easier for web administrators and with only one URL, there is no need to worry about creating redirects.

Users get a similar experience across devices. They do not have to relearn how to use your site from device to device.

Sites will have the same look and feel. Sometimes a mobile site is designed differently on purpose, sometimes not. With a responsive design scheme, sites have the same aesthetics regardless of where they are viewed.

Responsive design is the most versatile option out there right now.

Consistent branding is important for many companies and this applies to their websites as well. With a responsive website design there is one design, one theme, one website for every device.

Disadvantages of Responsive

Responsively designed sites can often be slow to load, depending on how they are built. For the quickest mobile experience, a responsive website must be designed with mobile first in mind.

Building responsive websites require a lot of planning and preparation and it can take longer from conception to site launch.

Sometimes responsive design schemes can present challenges in navigation from both the development standpoint and for users, who may expect more of a mobile-specific user interface.

Planning a responsive design plan to add to an existing website is not an easy option. Responsive sites are best when developed that way from the start.

Dedicated Mobile vs. Responsive Checklist

What are you trying to accomplish with your site? That really is the key question when it comes down to which type of mobile design platform you choose.

So which platform is better for certain needs?

Select the items that are most important to you to help make the decision if you are still on the fence.

  • Mobile-first game plan (apps, e-commerce, etc): Dedicated mobile
  • Short time between concept and site launch: Dedicated mobile
  • Addition to existing site that is not changing: Dedicated mobile
  • Updating the site is easier and more seamless: Responsive
  • Best search engine optimization: Responsive (but dedicated mobile is not far behind)
  • Overall development/design costs: Dedicated mobile
  • Adding conversion and redirect codes: Responsive
  • Overall branding and visual recognition: Responsive
  • High importance on having a single URL: Responsive
Join the discussion

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Jonath Lee 11 years ago
RWD indeed is very common nowaday, for me I found dedicated mobile site is highly recommended for those website with huge loads of contents (e.g. news, info portal, heavy images site, with ads especially) where contents especially images need high compression.

Mobile: Images size concern. Small file size but still fit for mobile retina display.

RWD: Good for moderate amounts of contents (single page, generic), less concern on advertisement image display.

Duplicate contents detection on search engine bots also need some effort, such as setting for the canonical links, and etc.
Mobile Web Design 11 years ago
I always suggest my customer to go for dedicated mobile website.. bcoz I m from india and my clients audience are from india.. If they use responsive, it ll take lot of time to load. So .. I suggest Dedicated website to my clients

kenneth 11 years ago
I already know about responsive web design of which I really like and my doors are open for new knowledge on this dedicated web design, for at least I have something to say about both when I have to compare.
webdesign 11 years ago
your idea and advice is nice now a days mobile design its good competition
Dedicated Mobile Sites 11 years ago
Your advice is great, but dedicated mobile websites have more advantages than what you listed above. Some research actually claims that dedicated mobile sites are better e.g. http://www.shopgate.com/us/responsive_design.
Tomas Pukalski 10 years ago
Fair comments on responsive websites disadvantages, however
lower initial website development cost,
cost-effective and easier maintenance and measure,
and more
<a href="http://frameworkdigital.co.uk/responsive-web-design-2014/"  target="_blank">responsive-web-design-2014</a>

Why do not develop a dedicated app instead of dedicated parallel mobile friendly website?