Mobile sites were originally conceived for very limited devices with extremely throttled download speeds. They are usually* hideous affairs with barely-functional drop-down lists, that leave out any branding or style that may be present on the main site. Most of the time there is absolutely no useful information on the front page, meaning that a user has to click-through before there is any arresting content.

Nowadays, there is very little gap between the net speeds of desktop and mobile devices. The only reason I can see to produce a mobile version of the site is to compensate for the smaller screens, and even then, that issue can be mostly avoided by good, clean, reflowable, uncluttered site design.

For myself, I always view mobile versions of a site as a nuisance, and click through to the desktop version as soon as possible.

With that said, are there any outstanding reasons to produce a mobile version of a site that is substantially different than the desktop version?

*I know better than to make universal statements, but this seems to be the rule, not the exception.

  • "Nowadays, there is very little gap between the net speeds of desktop and mobile devices." In terms of device hardware performance, perhaps. However one of the major factors to take into a mobile site from an implementation standpoint is the bandwidth limitations inherent with mobile networks. Downloading large image assets or other unnecessary files to the mobile device will decrease responsiveness, which will hurt the user experience. Mar 24, 2014 at 16:11
  • Welcome to the ux stack exchange!
    – Racheet
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:13

4 Answers 4


With that said, are there any outstanding reasons to produce a mobile version of a site that is substantially different than the desktop version?

Antiquated corporate product management and development processes and out-of-date developer skills and/or technology infrastructure.

In many (most?) cases that's what it boils down to. Why do we have two versions of our site? Because we've always had two versions of our site. Why don't we make one responsive site? Because there is no budget/demand to redo our site. Etc.


The standard today is to have one website that responds to the device it is being viewed on. The experience should be tailored for that device. For example, a website being viewed on mobile might respond to use a fly-out side menu, instead of a drop down horizontal menu in the header.

Also, mobile sites should have everything the desktop version of the site has. Responsive does not mean taking things away.

Doing the old "m.whatever.com" is not really being done anymore.

  • 1
    I agree that responsiveness is important, but I must sadly disagree with your last statement. m.whatever.com with design from the early noughts is all too common still with smaller companies.
    – Emmett R.
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:21
  • @EmmettR. - I haven't seen the m. in a while and I know many companies (including mine) that are doing away with it. If they are still out there, then you are right - that is sad.
    – JT703
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:23

Mobile devices have very different UX requirements to desktop/laptop computers. Here are a couple of examples from the top of my head:

  • Touch interfaces need a few-mm gap between links to avoid the fat-finger problem
  • Touch interfaces have no "hover" state
  • Phone interfaces are designed to be read top to bottom
  • If you have multiple layers of menu on a phone interface, they fill the entire above-the-fold viewport, and you can't tell what page you're on.
  • Large dropdown navigation menus are common and useful affordance on desktop interfaces, these are physically impossible to replicate in 320 horizontal pixels.

For these, and several dozen other, reasons it's usually a good idea to have different ways of showing a page on desktop and mobile devices.

  • You make good points about interface design, but it seems like most garden variety mobile sites are designed with only data usage in mind. For example, those drop-down lists tend to be extremely narrow and easy to mis-click.
    – Emmett R.
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:17
  • I'll admit that many mobile sites are poorly designed, but that doesn't mean that we should just force everybody to use desktop sites on mobile, even when that offers poor ux. It means we should design mobile sites that work.
    – Racheet
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:23
  • I don't agree with all the bullets (for example, for accessibility you need space between links on desktop as well) and issues such as the mega-menus can still be selectively shown via one site with some responsive logic put into the mix. I don't think the bullets add up to justification that you always need separate sites.
    – DA01
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:48
  • @DA01 I wasn't suggesting that you need separate sites, I'm all for responsive design, I'm just saying that you need separate presentation on different devices.
    – Racheet
    Mar 25, 2014 at 10:47
  • Ah! That makes sense. I agree.
    – DA01
    Mar 25, 2014 at 15:13

From my perspective there are two things to consider here:

  1. What does the user expect of a website viewed on a mobile device in terms of what he wants to achieve there
  2. What does the user epect of a website viewed on a mobile device in terms of performance

With regard to 1 I would say you are right, generally one can assume that the goals a user wants to achieve when viewing a site on mobile do not really differ from when viewing the page on a desktop / Laptop or other device.

However, the tolerance for performance and loading times of "mobile" users is actually quite low, as users are used to using native apps on these devices that offer a very fluid experience. This is where adaptive design is very strong, i.e. serving different assets and a structurally different html to mobile users.

Why? Becauses while mobile networks are becoming increasingly powerful in terms of raw throughput, signal run times are still a lot higher than on other broadband connections, thus optimizing an adaptive site for less http-requests for mobile users can increase performance a lot. Combine this with a lower patience of mobile users and you got yourself a pretty good reason of optimizing your responsive / fluid design for mobile. I recommend this article on serverside optimized responsive design for further information: http://mobile.smashingmagazine.com/2013/04/09/improve-mobile-support-with-server-side-enhanced-responsive-design/

  • Absolutely, that same impatience is why the old model of mobile site is so harmful. It is true that among the very best mobile sites, backed by major corporations, designs for mobile sites are full-featured and well optimized. However, most blogging services, small companies, and personal sites are still stagnated a decade in the past, with that harmful gateway list, and bland, content-free presentation. What I suppose I'm asking is why there isn't a new paradigm for the casual web-user? Is there another basic format for the non-savvy that is less than actively harmful?
    – Emmett R.
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:39

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