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Responsive Web Design, Mobile Websites, App? The Difference

2013.10.10 by 

While displaying content on mobile devices, i.e. on smartphones and tablets, you generally distinguish between three possible options: responsive web design, apps, and purely mobile websites.

  • How do these three display options differ from each other?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages and why does a mobile internet presence actually make sense for your customer?

Responsive Web Design

Nowadays, when people talk of mobile web, they often mean responsive web design. “Responsive” refers to a design that can automatically adjust itself according to the size of the device or the browser window.

To be able to implement a page using responsive web design, both the primary structure and the images must be flexible. Detailed images that seem good on a large screen make little sense on a small screen. Implementation is then carried out using the CSS3 technology “Media Queries.”


smooster.com in Responsive Design

Our own site smooster.com was also built as a responsive website.


Another option for displaying mobile content is a separately designed and programmed page.

The page is designed additionally for the dimensions of browsers on mobile devices. As with responsive web design, we are talking here about a website that can be accessed directly via the device’s browser - that means there won’t be an additional download.

Due to limited space, it is sensible not to include all the content from the original website. Even the demands of the visitor to the mobile website are often different from that of the home PC. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself the following questions: “While on the go, which information would someone want to be able to access quickly?”

Die mobile Webseite von heute.de

E.g.: the mobile website of the news portal heute.de


Mobile apps, like mobile websites, are also specially designed for smartphones or tablets. However, they also differ very much from mobile websites in usage and expense. You have to first install the app on your device before you can use it. It can present a challenge to the user, but it also offers the added advantage of users returning, if the service provided via the app appeals to them.

die App (Android Version) von ZDF heute

...and the app (Android version) of ZDF heute.

Most of the designers, with whom we work, have customers with small or medium websites. Does it make any sense at all to consider a mobile app in this case? Mobile apps have to be developed additionally for each operating system. Since they are installed on the devices, they must always be compatible with the updates of the operating system. It all boils down to spending time and money, which is hardly worth it for end users with small and medium companies.

In the following therefore, I particularly want to deal with the various advantages and disadvantages of responsive design and mobile websites.


One thing always applies to both models. While creating a mobile internet presence, adjusting the design alone will not do. Mobile internet presences offer less space, which means that revising the contents is often included in the process of creating a simpler design.

The contents, which people search for the most on mobile devices, are specific products, directions, and gastronomy. Anyone, who is on the go, would want to get the desired information speedily and efficiently. As a result, it is crucial to check the content of the planned mobile internet presence for its mobile relevance.

For instance, let us take the website of a dermatologist or a barber:

Which information would a visitor want to be able to access quickly on the website of a dermatologist or a barbershop even while on the go?

Probably the address, opening hours, an overview of the services on offer (including prices), and perhaps directions.

Which information that probably makes sense in the desktop version would you rather advise against in a mobile internet presence?

An illustrated list of the newest devices that the dermatologist has in his repertoire would attract as little attention on a cell phone as the complete gallery of the fantastic haircuts the barber has done till date.

In the following infographic, you will find advantages and disadvantages of responsive web design and mobile websites. Which variant is better suited to a web project will always be determined based on the demands and budget of the customer.

smooster Responsive Web Design Mobile Web Infographic

Simply click on the infographic, if you would like to enlarge it.

If a website should be made available on mobile on a limited budget and with little labor, a responsive web design is the first choice.

However, whoever links clear marketing targets to his mobile activities should go for a mobile website or mobile app.

If it involves a technically very complex and innovative idea, which should be realized on mobile, a mobile app is recommended, especially if the app shall also work offline, without an internet connection. If these points do not apply, you can go easy on your development budget by opting for a mobile website.

Would your customers rather have a responsive web design or a separate mobile website? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.




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