Mobile Development for the Masses- Part Deux

There’s no way around it.  The public at large is embracing mobile technology with a vengeance and as a result, businesses have to adapt and follow suit. The challenge that many businesses are facing with the mobile revolution is “Where do I start?”  A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post explaining the various mobile development options.  These options range from repurposing existing web content to creating a mobile app.

So, which option is right for you?  What are the pros and cons?

1.   Adaptive design: This option involves taking existing web content that is optimized for viewing on standard desktop monitors and repurposing the content so it is optimized for viewing on smaller mobile screens.  Without getting too far into the nitty gritty technical details, this involves creating 2 or 3 CSS files tailored to various screen sizes. The website is then designed to automatically display a specific style sheet/web page based on the resolution of the device. For instance, one style sheet would be viewable on devices with screens up to 480 pixels, another would be viewable on devices between 480 and 800 pixels, and finally a third style sheet would be viewable on devices /monitors with screen resolutions over 1024.


  • One of the easiest and cheapest ways to “go mobile”.
  • Does not require a full rebuild
  • Allows you to leverage existing website content.
  • Can tailor the appearance based on various screen sizes.


  • Must know in advance what screen sizes you’re targeting.
  • The website determines which CSS file to display based on the maximum screen resolution.  It is not always perfect and the end user may end up with the dreaded horizontal scroll bar.
  • Does not “future proof” your website for new devices and screen resolutions.

2.   Responsive Design: Like adaptive design, responsive design also repurposes existing web content, but it responds to every screen size. Responsive design ensures content and images wrap and adjust automatically so the mobile user has the optimal viewing experience no matter what screen size they’re using.


  • Still relatively cost effective.
  • Web content rearranges automatically based on any screen size, so the site is always optimized no matter how big or small the screen.
  • Provides a degree of “future proofing” as new devices with varying screen sizes are being developed.


  • Development is more labor intensive than adaptive design.
  • Requires knowledge of CSS.


3.  Web Application: A web application is a separate web page that is designed specifically for viewing on mobile devices.  This option differs from adaptive and responsive design in that it doesn’t leverage existing content; however the content is still accessed via a standard web browser.  Web apps are generally built with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. So how does it work?  When a user accesses a website from a mobile web browser, the server redirects the user to the mobile version of the site (using WURFL or another tool).


  • Web apps are browser based and therefore available on a wide range of devices.
  • You don’t need to develop different versions for Android and iOS like you do with a native mobile app.
  • Design considerations are focused strictly on optimizing the mobile user experience.


  • Unable to make use of device specific technologies (such as the camera, compass, gyroscope)
  • Web apps are a separate implementation from the standard website, so it is more costly to implement than the adaptive/responsive design options.

To view examples of web apps, check out the previous post on mobile development.

4.  Native Mobile Application: A native mobile application has the ability to provide the sleekest mobile experience possible.  Designing a native mobile app allows you to take full advantage of the capabilities of the device and the ability to incorporate device specific technologies, such as the compass, built-in camera and gyroscope.  Because native mobile applications are downloaded directly on to the device, special considerations must be taken into account when developing for specific platforms ( iOS, Android, etc).   Of all of the options, this one has the potential to be the most labor intensive and costly, but again it has the potential to provide the best  experience for the mobile user.


  • Has the ability to provide the greatest mobile user experience with platform/device specific design.
  • Great when you have a specific audience in mind. (ie: sales team who needs access to a tool on their iPad when selling out in the field)
  • Provides the ability to utilize device specific technology, such as the camera.


  • Can be costly.
  • Development time is more labor intensive.
  • Need to develop different versions for various platforms.

So which one is the best option for your organization?

Well, you’ll need to consider your audience and your budget.   Adaptive design, responsive design, and web apps all make use of mobile browsers which means they’re universally available and platform independent.  If you have a small budget and want to reach a broad audience, one of these options will best suit your needs.  If you have a specific audience in mind or would like to target a specific platform (ie: iPad) and want to provide a sleek mobile experience (and have the budget to do so), go for the native mobile app!

And if you need assistance, we’re here to help you along the way.


One Response to Mobile Development for the Masses- Part Deux

  1. I just added your web page to my bookmarks. I enjoy reading your posts. Thank you!