June 4, 2013 | by Liam

The Responsive Factor

Mobile apps are more popular than ever these days but is it really necessary for your project? Typically an app offers some sort of service. Think of most popular ones you use on your mobile, more likely or not they will be a social networks, web services or games. What you won’t find is too many static, content driven apps. This is where responsive design comes into play.

Definition: Responsive web design is an approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).

In other words a website that scales in both design and size to accommodate different device screen sizes whether they be desktop, tablet or phone.

So why choose a responsive website over an app?

If the proposed app is merely a repackaged website, you’re very likely heading in the wrong direction. Apple have a strict vetting process to what goes on their app store. The App Store approval process can sometimes take up to 10 days with no guarantee of approval. Apps that offer little more than the website experince, will fail the submission process.

There’s also cost, depending on the size, functionality and scope of the project an app development can get to be pretty pricey. A different version of the app would be required for every desired platform (iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone) meaning a different version for each platform would have to be produced. Apps usually require some form of external mechanism to deliver content. This would have to be developed alongside both the app and any other dynamic digital content.

Another problem faced is the ongoing management and maintenance after the app has been built and distributed. The submission process, updates, bug fixes and testing all add up. In general, the app development process requires a larger emphasis on technical resources and manpower.

Using responsive techniques a website should be cross platform suitable (any device that has internet access and a mobile browser). The accessibility of website also is an advantage, there’s no need to download and install anything from a device’s app store everything can be found by URL.

A responsive approach would still require development time but would be the more affordable option determined by the size and scope of the website. Making a website responsive only requires time and a two or three devices to test on. A responsive solution in all its different forms will be driven by the same content management system (CMS) making universal content easy to manage.

It should also be pointed out responsive website will future proof against phone and operating system updates that can sometimes have an detrimental affect on apps as they get older. Being built on web standards a responsive solution negates the problem of code breaking or becoming obsolete.

The two key features a mobile app offers over a website are the ability to interface with a device’s native features (a camera, phone book etc.) and some form of ability to work without internet access. Admitably both are cool features to have but think about it in the context of a typical website and how often they would be required. Why not explore some of these examples using different devices to get an idea of how powerful responsive web design can actually be.

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