I had an interesting conversation with someone on LinkedIn a few weeks ago (I know, I’m as surprised as you are by that statement) about dedicated mobile sites versus responsive web design.
A couple of years ago, the benefits of separate sites were more clear to me. Today, I can’t think of a good reason to maintain a separate mobile site.
The Trouble with Context
Many arguments in favor of a separate mobile site seem to center around user context.
There’s a belief that mobile users exist in a specific and limited context: busy, distracted, and focused on only one type of information. That particular context is just one of many that can and do apply to mobile users.
In the Trouble With Context, the folks at Yiibu point out that mobile users aren’t always just looking for information. They’re also reading while commuting, entertaining themselves while they wait in line, or browsing the web while watching TV.
In the latest report from Google and Nielsen, it’s noted that…
77% of mobile searches are in a location (work or home) likely to have a PC available to them.
We can’t infer intent or environment based on the size of one’s screen.
Time Travel and the Web
In Windows on the Web, Karen McGrane writes…
While you’re at work, you read a restaurant review for a new place you think sounds tasty. Come dinnertime, you grab your phone to pull up the address and location. One night on your tablet, you’re browsing articles for a report you’re writing at work. Back at your desk the next day, you struggle in vain to remember what you searched for to find those articles. Why can’t you find them again? Sound familiar? If you’re like most people, it probably does. Research from Google shows that 90 percent of people start a task using one device, then pick it up later on another device.
People now expect access to the same content on any device. Not being able to find content, or being able to find it but not access it, is incredibly frustrating for users.
Brad Frost keeps a running list of sites that fail at this over at WTF Mobile Web. It’s a good study in what to avoid.
The gentleman I was chatting with on LinkedIn mentioned that for mobile users, he intended to share about 50 percent less content and reduce the steps in their checkout process to make it more efficient.
I think that’s a great idea, but I don’t think it should be limited to the mobile site.
If 50 percent less information is the right amount of information people need to complete their tasks, then you should only provide that 50 percent on all devices. And if visitors on laptops could use that additional information, why wouldn’t someone on a smaller screen want access to it, too?
Similarly, if you can process a checkout in just two or three steps instead of five, why wouldn’t desktop users benefit from that as well?
When less is less
On his about page, Frank Chimero notes…
Some things are truly diminished when simplified.
I think there’s truth to that. It’s important not to simplify just for the sake of simplifying when thinking about smaller screen devices. If the content is important, it should be there for everyone. And if it’s not, it shouldn’t be there for anyone.
The presentation may vary from smaller to bigger screens. But the content shouldn’t.
Information architecture becomes increasingly important as we think about the various ways people will be accessing our content.
When should you have a separate mobile site?
Honestly, I don’t know. Any of the examples I can think of, I can just as easily argue that a well-designed responsive site can meet the same needs with similar performance.
What do you think?
Rian van der Merwe expands on these ideas in Responsive design vs. separate mobile sites. Check it out.