Developers have been scrambling to optimize their website for mobile experience ever since the mobile computing boom.
The first attempt was M(dot) or mobile optimized versions of existing websites, represented by a prefix of m (eg: m.contentcrossroads.com). When accessing the website from a mobile device, m (dot) automatically redirects to the mobile site.
However, the reign of m(dot) domains as the preferred way to optimize for the mobile was short lived. Since 2012, responsive design has jostled M(dot) away from the limelight.
Developers prefer Responsive Web Design (RWD) to M(dot) for a handful of good reasons:
1. The highly fragmented mobile ecosystem with disparate devices and incompatible operating systems makes customization and redirect unfeasible for every device or operating system.
2. M(dot) assigns a different domain for different devices. This runs contrary to the time tested convention of a single content in the web or a single website being under a single domain. Such an approach ensures simplicity, makes searches easy, is extremely user-friendly and has contributed to the growth of the Internet to what it is today.
3. Even if the values of the founding fathers do not mean a thing no developer can afford to disregard what Google values. Google endorses the policy of singe content having a single address. There is a real risk of Google not respecting the redirect to m. sites and treating the same as duplicate content to penalize SEO rankings.
4. Redirects and hardware-specific URLs do not work for social sharing either. Take the case of a visitor who accesses the page from the mobile device and shares the link. The friend would end up with a 3.5” mobile screen optimized page in the 24” desktop monitor. What’s more, Google estimates that 90% of users alternate between devices, and having to remember/note down different domain addresses for different devices make things that much difficult for them.
5. In an age where speed is highly valued, the two seconds it takes to redirect to an m(dot) site may count against the website. In a 3G enabled world, even delays as small as 500 milliseconds often result in a 1.9% conversion penalty.
6. RWD offers a solution to the first four issues listed above that plagues M(dot). RWD dynamically adjusts to the screen-size, that is to say the code and the URL remains the same across devices.
However, when it comes to load times, RWD may actually fare worse. In RWD, all page elements have to load in all devices which may make page load dead slow. It may be easier to simply use Apache rewrites to avoid redirects in M(dot). The workaround in RWD is to build websites starting with the mobile site to avoid loading unnecessary code in mobile devices, but this would be an impractical approach for complex websites like e-commerce. KISSmetrics estimates that an e-commerce website making $100,000 a day could actually lose $2.5 million a year with just a one-second page delay.
Responsive web design is definitely the way to go, but it remains a work-in-progress and is by no means a perfect solution.