Responsive Web Design vs Mobile Apps

Martin Hansen-Lennox

Published Mon 09 Mar by Martin Hansen-Lennox in Perfecting Your Website's Design and Marketing More Effectively

This article looks into the benefits of responsive web design and compares it to dedicated smart phone apps – which is right for you?

Responsive Design may have started as a trend, but it has quickly become an evolutionary step in web development and design that has greatly affected design and technology’

How Does Your Website Look on a Mobile?

The proliferation of smart phones and tablets (and now even ‘Phablets’) has led to an increasing and sustained demand for websites that are easy to view on smaller screens. 

  • One of the most common questions we have from clients is  "How does it look on a mobile?"
  • Google have declared 'Mobile Friendly' as an official ranking factor.  
  • As far back as 2013, TechCrunch reported 1.9 billion users on mobile devices, compared to 1.6 billion who only use desktop devices to access the internet

Now more than ever, it is clear that websites without mobile capacity are being left behind.

What Are The Options? 

There are 3 primary ways to make your website mobile friendly, listed here in ascending price order: 

  • Have your website designed responsively so that it can be viewed easily on both desktop and mobile devices
  • Have a dedicated mobile version of your website
  • Create a mobile app to emulate the features of your website 

While some larger and forward thinking companies have made effective use of the last 2 options, a Responsive Web Design (RWD) is considerably less costly in both time and money, making it a no-brainer for most small to medium sized business. 

In fact, RWD has become so commonplace that Twitter Bootstrap was designed specifically for it, and the majority of WordPress themes now have responsiveness built in.

Advantages of RWD Over Dedicated Mobile Apps / Sites

It's Cheaper

It's cheaper to create and maintain a single  responsive website than to manage a website, 2 x mobile app and dedicated mobile site.  Even a single mobile app needs 2 versions - one for iPhone and another for Android.

Saves Time

You only have one item to manage and you don't have to create new content for each channel

Good for SEO

Google (and possibly other search engines) prefer mobile friendly sites. Google has officially declared this a ranking factor along with other items pertaining to accessibility.  Sites that are NOT mobile friendly also tend to have a much higher bounce rate, as people visit the sites on their mobile and click straight back off after realising how difficult the non-RWD site is to navigate. 

Seamless User Experience

A single point of contact available on phones, tablets and desktops helps your customers find the info they need more easily - anytime and anywhere. This ultimately means that you'll get more enquiries, customers, repeat business and recommendations

Ease of Navigation

Responsive Web Design is perfect for top to bottom navigation. When users change from their desktop to mobile device to access a website, content is pushed from top to bottom. This is most suitable for informational sites such as corporate sites, blog sites and news sites

So Why Does Anybody Use a Mobile App or Dedicated Mobile Site?

Because dedicated apps and mobile sites are more costly to develop and maintain, we wouldn't recommend them for smaller companies with limited resources.  However it is worth looking at why some companies DO think they're worthwhile:  

Compatibility with Older Browsers / Devices

RWD has only recently matured into the no-brainer option it is now. Only 3 years ago, many browsers had at least a couple of problems displaying responsive sites.  However most modern web browsers now handle responsive sites beautifully. 

More Customisation Options

Mobile apps and dedicated mobile sites allow for much more customisation of both layout and content depending on the device used.  You may not want your whole desktop site visible on a mobile. 

It also allows for finer grained customisation of the user experience (see next item).

More Control Over Features / Design / User Experience

Mobile apps and dedicated mobile sites allow for fine grained control over design and layout.  RWDs one-size-fits-all approach means you never quite know how your layout will look in yet another device - with a different sized screen and pixel density

There are other branding benefits - for example, mobile apps make it easier to get your brand's icon on the mobile users 'home screen'. 

Finally, there are features available to mobile apps that are impossible or difficult to emulate with RWD.  For example, a mobile app can have access to your phone's mic to record audio. A RWD does not. A mobile app offers more intuitive navigation using 'swipes' and 'slides. For example in industries such as sports, entertainment and retail, mobile users are accustomed to scrolling from left to right, especially when viewing pictures in a carousel photo and video gallery.

Faster Download Speed / Load Time

Because they're targeted for small devices, and only small devices, mobile apps and dedicated sites have less 'stuff' to download.  This can make a difference on older phones / tablets with slower download speed. Additionally, because a mobile app is already installed on your device, this gives a faster loading time than a RWD, and a more 'instant' feel to your app -  it doesn't have to load a whole webpage for each change you make.

2 Comments on Responsive Web Design vs Mobile Apps

  • Left at 12:18 Katie Bullon

    Great, concise article which really simplifies the different benefits of responsive websites vs dedicated sites/apps. I think your comment about smaller businesses with limited marketing resource going more down the responsive route is very valid. Updating and paying for two separate systems is not always realistic from a time and cost perspective and I think smaller businesses should (where possible) make sure their sites are responsive, especially given that Google now mark sites on this factor. Also read this article  

  • Left at 12:47 Wendell Sanchez

    Well, that’s a very important discussion and needs prior attention of the users especially when you have a business centric portal. There is no doubt that you should have a responsive website these days in order to get accessed through various devices. However, the significance of mobile apps is endless when you are targeting global audiences and have a high end business oriented websites. If you have a small business portal then you can even settle for a responsive website. You can also check out for getting further details.

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