Responsive is the Mobile Web of Tomorrow

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There are a lot of misconceptions, or myths, going around constantly about responsive design. We've even busted a few ourselves. Recently, another article caught our eye that had us scratching our heads, because it seemed to miss the point.

We're sure that Danny Bluestone, of Cyber-Duck, had the best of intentions. And he does make some fair points in his article. That being said, he also seems to be making some out-of-left-field conclusions. He pits responsive web design against what he calls adaptive web design. But what he really means with adaptive web really is a separate mobile-only site.

After all, as is pointed out in the comments section, responsive design is adaptive. Which is how Ethan Marcotte put it in his now-famous article on the subject.

When it comes to responsive web design, however, two cons for Danny stick out like a sore thumb:

  • Responsive sites don't account for users' behavioral differences on different devices
  • Responsive sites aren't fully-optimized for the devices they appear on

Let's take those two points individually.

Responsive Sites Do Account for Users' Behaviors

Danny cites year-old data on how users behavior changes depending on the device they are using. Some habits for mobile have changed since that 2011 survey, particularly for shopping. The survey states that nearly half of users don't make purchases on the phone.

But, as the recent Black Friday has shown, a majority of shoppers are now flocking to online stores through their mobile devices.

Danny's main point, however, is that users behave differently from desktop to mobile, etc. We may behave slightly different, but we still expect to do things on a mobile web site as we do on a desktop browser, as Brad Frost has pointed out before. Or as he put it:

Mobile users will do anything and everything desktop users will do.

Responsive design allows for that content parity that users are looking for in both desktop and mobile.

Using media queries we're also able to have that content fit nicely within a mobile browsers, changing the markup so that the mobile experience is optimized. That way we can keep a mobile user from difficulty in finding what exactly they are looking for without having a lot of unnecessary elements come before them and the content. In short, media queries allow us to adapt to changes in user behaviors across devices.

Which brings us to ...

Responsive Sites Are Optimized

Danny writes:

The user does not get a fully-optimized experience for the device they are using.

Hate to hammer the previous point, but that's where specific media queries are great. They allow us to make changes in the mark up to hide elements on smaller devices with different classes. Let's go back to Ethan Marcotte for a second and his article on the subject:

A media query allows us to target not only certain device classes, but to actually inspect the physical characteristics of the device rendering our work.

Yeah, media queries kick butt. That being said, we will say there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to optimization for retina displays. That can't be said, however, for different screen sizes in general.

One Last Point

One thing that Danny is right to point out is performance issues relating to loading time. To be fair, we have a lot of work when it comes to hiding content, especially large images, so they don't muck up a page's load. We know it's something that needs to be resolved.

One way around it, however, is to build everything in CSS or using javascript to control the preloading of images.

In any case, we're furiously working toward the future of responsive design. We're even toiling to make Foundation even better for mobile by going mobile first with it.

Despite the misconceptions, responsive design is truly the mobile web of tomorrow and it's already here. That's why 2013 is the year of responsive design. It's adaptable, optimal and it just plain works.

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