Responsive Websites – Advantages / Disadvantages (Pros vs Cons)

  • Created by Matthew Stapleford
  • on the 30 October, 2013.
responsive websites pros and cons

At the time of writing this post, the majority of web designers would agree that developing responsive websites is the best solution for providing a website that will function and appear as intended on a wide variety of different screen sizes and devices.

That said, whilst I have been working on a number of responsive websites as well as a responsive framework, I have certainly had moments of reconsideration for the alternative ‘adaptive web design’ approach. There are certainly some disadvantages (cons) to responsive web design so I thought that I would detail these within this post along with the advantages (pros) of the responsive approach.

The Advantages (Pros) of The Responsive Web Design Approach

One Website: Cost Effective & Easier To Maintain

Having just one website rather than having two websites (one for desktop users and a separate one for mobile users) is much easier to maintain. It is also much more cost effective to have one fully responsive website developed that can adapt to a wide variety of screen sizes and devices rather than having two websites that basically serve the same purpose.

Having only one website will also allow you to track visitors, conversions, search engine improvements, etc far easier as you only have to monitor the one website rather than trying to combine the statistics of two websites to see your overall performance.

Consistent Experience For Visitors

With many people now using multiple devices to browse the web having the one website that serves itself to all computers and mobile devices is usually much better for providing a consistent experience for your website visitors. By this I mean that the website will have the same ‘feel’ even if the layout has been adjusted for a particular device. This also helps to preserve your brands consistency which for many large organisations is very important.

Wider Device Support

Whilst some companies still choose to have one website for desktop / laptop users and another for mobile users, this is not really the best solution if you want to provide an accessible website to the widest variety of screen sizes and mobile devices. A responsive website should be accessible on a screen of any size and on any capable tablet or smartphone as the same site is provided to all of these devices. A mobile only website though, will be limited to a certain range / width of pixels which is now becoming a problem as there is not a huge gap between a small laptop screen and a larger tablet such as the original sized iPad.

The separation between desktop and mobile devices is no longer such an obvious distinction to make. A laptop after all is a mobile device but is often used at a desk and can have a fairly large display or can have a screen size which is similar to that of a mobile tablet. A responsive approach is the best concept currently available for adapting to this situation.

The Disadvantages (Cons) of The Responsive Approach

The Initial Cost

It obviously takes longer to code and test a website that is to work on a wide variety of screen sizes and devices so the initial cost of having a website designed is usually higher than having a non responsive site designed. A responsive website usually does offer better value for money but if for some reason you have no interest in the user experience for mobile users (which would be unusual given the huge amount of mobile users) then a responsive website might not be the cheapest solution.

Educating The Client & The Expectations Placed On A Designer

Many people searching on the web for a new website will not of even heard of responsive web design and so they will not know that this is something that could be more suitable for their requirements and that this is likely to cost more. This means that a designer will have to explain and educate potential clients before they can agree on developing a website that is responsive.

The other side of this is the person who has seen and experienced many responsive websites and so expects that this is something a designer will provide at no additional charge as they expect their new website to adapt perfectly to all possible devices. It is not really possible though for a designer to provide a fully responsive website without charging more as more time is required to develop the alternative layouts and to test the website on a variety of computers and devices.

The Webkit Sub-Pixel Calculation Nightmare For Percentage Based Layouts

Safari is a great web browser but there is an issue with the way that the Webkit engine calculates percentage based layouts which are necessary for a responsive layout. The issue results in little unexpected gaps between floated elements that have a width with a percentage based value. Now Internet Explorer has issues too but most web designers are used to having issues with Internet Explorer, where as Safari is usually excellent in providing support for a wide variety of CSS layout properties and values.

Currently the latest versions of FireFox and Google Chrome (unexpectedly as Chrome uses the Webkit engine) look great and present no real issues with the sub-pixel rendering of percentage based layouts. I was really hoping that Apple would fix this with the latest update to Safari that was released with their new operating system titled ‘Mavericks’ but unfortunately the same problem exists so fixing these issues adds lots more time to certain responsive websites (I am working on a responsive framework though which I will release soon for free that fixes these errors as best as currently possible. I will also add details of the responsive framework in a future blog post soon).

Conclusion

The responsive web design approach to designing websites is still obviously the way things need to go but I have added the advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) above so that people can make their own mind up about the responsive approach, whether you might be an individuals looking for a new website or a designer considering the expansion of your own design services, its always nice to know the pros and cons of any concept.