Saw this post from Kula Partners on twitter: Five reasons responsive design is better than a mobile website. I am not saying that you shouldn’t go responsive, responsive is awesome. It isn’t the only solution to the problem though, and sometimes it isn’t even the right one. Sometimes people don’t want to see the responsive site on their phone, they want your full site and the full site experience. Consider your audience. Do they use mobile phones? Do they still use old browsers? Do your users expect the functionality and layout to stay the same whether they visit your site on a phone, a desktop computer, a tablet, a television? What about your content, can you make it work at 320×640 all the way up to 1600×1900?
On to the points from the post:
1. You only need to maintain one code base. The same templates that are used for the desktop site are used on the mobile site. Yes, this can make these pages a bit heavier in terms of file size and complexity, but the HTML markup is largely the same for a responsive site as it would be for a site meant purely for the desktop.
Sure, once codebase is nice, but two is fine if it is just the templates, and it reduces the complexity of the templates themselves. This isn’t really a problem in Drupal at all, you can run 10, 20, 100 sites off the same database with the same content pretty easily because most of the work is done in modules and not the template.
2. Enter your content once, display it everywhere. One database or content management system serves all users. No need to maintain two copies of any content, ensuring that your site is always up to date, no matter what device is viewing it.
Same thing as above. If you are using the correct tool for the job, you only need to enter the content once. This is a solved problem because it was a problem before responsive design came around. Maybe not in wordpress because of the hard coded domain baked into the install, but drupal can do this a couple of different ways. You could use context reaction theme to switch to a different theme based on the url. You could use (I haven’t tried this one) theme key which looks like it gives you a way to change the theme based on rules like you can with context. You could also use domain access to do it.
3. It’s possible to optimize images so that they look good and download quickly no matter what network’s bandwidth you’re using. This is a big argument of the mobile-site-only camp. The fact is, image compression technology is quite good, and sometimes one medium-sized, well-optimized image can suffice for both large and small devices. Plus new solutions are being developed for appropriately serving individual images optimized to each platform. From a content management perspective, this also saves responsive site managers a great deal of time because they only need to deal with editing one image, not three or more.
Yep, this is what image cache is for, or the built-in wordpress image sizes. You pick a size that fits the design rather than trying to figure out one that fits all the sizes. You still only need to edit one image, you just pre-scale it so that the browser has less to do. Scaling it + smoothing the image for the screen size takes some time, you can see this on slower computers, view an image in the browser, make the window small, then make it big. You can sometimes see pixelation in the image before the browser smoothes it. You can also serve the correct image using responsive images, but which one? Maybe this isn’t a problem for newer devices? Or maybe they are on a limited data cap and can’t afford the extra kilobytes? Maybe the network speed is horrible.
4. You’ll always get the appropriate version of a site when following a link shared by someone on social media. You know what I mean. When you tap a link from Twitter on your phone and you’re presented with the desktop version of the site, even though you know that site has a mobile version. The trouble is, most sites do a poor job of detecting the device and don’t automatically redirect to the correct URL. Even more egregious is when you’re on your laptop and you click a link that was posted via a mobile device, and you get the mobile version of the site, complete with wall to wall text that is impossible to read and images that have been scaled to 320 pixels and are now stretched across 1500 pixels on your widescreen monitor. It’s a positively awful experience.
It isn’t that awful, make you have a max-width for the content. Done. Additionally, mobile site images are probably wider than 320 now because the resolution of common devices is going up.
5. URL parity is maintained no matter what device you’re serving to. This is essential for search engine optimization. To Google, this link: kulapartners.com/my-link and kulapartners.mobi/my-link are two completely different sites. Why compete against yourself for search ranking. With responsive web design, your URLs are the same no matter what platform you’re on.
That is what a canonical url is for. It tells the all mighty Google (and other lesser search engines) where the content originates. You should specify a canonical url anyway in case the url changes (or there are two ways of getting to a post). That could happen if you change the title of your post.
6. Implied: You don’t need to have an app
You don’t need an app with a mobile specific site either? Is your goal to get in-front of as many eyeballs as possible? Maybe you should have an app (or four)?
So, should you go responsive? I guess it depends.