Why are considerations for mobile website users so important to modern web developers and designers? Here are a few statistics that make it clear.
- As smartphones and other mobile devices have become more widespread, some 21% of Americans now report that they go online “almost constantly.” (Perrin, 2015)
- Mobile users are five times more likely to abandon their task if the site isn’t optimized for mobile. (Virma, 2014)
- 48% of users say they feel frustrated and annoyed when on sites that are poorly optimized for mobile. (Lee, 2014)
- 52% of users said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company. (Jarboe, 2014)
- 60% of consumers use mobile exclusively to make purchase decisions. Users who don’t buy cite dissatisfaction, not enough information, slow connection, or a small screen.
Prior to the explosion of smartphone adoption, it was easy for organizations to focus all of their online development resources on the desktop experience. The first solution to these bifurcated user platforms was the split domain. Users who navigated to www.organization.com would be re-directed to m.organization.com (“m” for mobile). This meant that every organization using this approach had to maintain two distinct websites. That’s both inefficient, a doubling of workload, and a scenario prone to out-of-sync content between the two sites. Not only that, but the extraordinary rate with which new mobile devices were coming to market meant that as soon as a new device appeared for which a developer had not created an explicit solution, the experience on the new device was broken (the iPad and Apple devices with Retina displays are prime examples). This problem is summarized by the inventor of responsive web design, Ethan Marcotte.
We can quarantine the mobile experience on subdomains, spaces distinct and separate from “the non-iPhone website.” But what’s next? An iPad website? An N90 [Nokia phone] website? Can we really continue to commit to supporting each new user agent with its own bespoke experience? (Marcotte, 2010)
Responsive web design solves the problem of device proliferation and multiple domains. The organization need only maintain one website. In a site build using responsive design principles, the content of that single website will re-flow according to the device on which its being viewed, creating no penalty for how the site is used or on what device. Not only that, the site is future-proofed against the emergence of as yet unknown devices that are sure to hit the market in the years ahead. Given these advantages, the paradigm of multiple websites custom tailored to different devices is effectively dead.
This shift in design approach is all the more important when we consider the future of internet-enabled devices. No longer will web-based information be confined to smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. As the Internet of Things grows as a technological phenomenon, there are sure to be many, many more devices that will serve web-based content. Those display interfaces may be as large as theater screens, as small as lipstick cases, or even flexible like a sheet of acetate film. With no way of anticipating the full spectrum of user interface possibilities, responsive website design is the only practical way forward.