It’s not uncommon to see the term responsive web design used interchangeably with the term mobile website. On the surface, they make look the same. However, the two are very different.
First, let’s look at responsive web design. This type of website scale fluidly as the screen size changes. The website mostly keeps it’s original look, providing consistent across screen sizes for the user.
A responsive web design accomplishes its scaling using CSS. Particularly, media queries (a component of CSS) are a core part of a responsive web design.
A responsive web design is not concerned with device. It is a concerned with screen size.
On the other hand, a mobile website is looking for specific device types. Once any number of target device types are found, a completely different website is served up.
By different website, I mean a website that has been designed specifically for mobile devices. Instead of a URL such as www.mywebsite.com, it might look like m.mywebsite.com.
Since a mobile website is basically built from the ground up for mobile devices, it can over functionality specifically targeted for mobile devices. Whereas a responsive web design is more generic and may not be as flexible on mobile devices, thus eliminating certain functionality.
The mobile website may display only a map, phone number and hours. Just those items that a mobile user needs while they are on the go. Or it might provide functionality that is different from the desktop version of the site. For example, the accelerometer or gyroscope might be utilized.
While responsive web design and mobile website may be used interchangeably, you can see they have different purposes and are in fact different under the hood.
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