Responsive vs Adaptive website design: I've changed my mind

I've written about it before, though I've been doing a lot of both Adaptive and Responsive front-end development recently and I've come to a realisation:

For the best user experience, most of the time, an Adaptive base is the answer.

Oh no you say. Responsive is the ultimate, the answer. The whole industry has resolved it to be and even clients are starting to work it out.

(And in reality, even plenty of our team have spruiked Responsive design as the only solution.)

Except that choosing Adaptive as your approach to multiple-devices really is the only way to get the ultimate experience on each unique device quickly. It is about maximising user conversion rates on each device and being efficient with your code. 

Something that Responsive design usually falls short on.


Adaptive: Pros

  1. The user experience is can be adapted specifically for each platform. No compromise is required.
  2. When you properly separate the application layers, you can still have several, differing website experiences, each targeted to a different platform and user type, from the one code base.
  3. Load time and browser rendering is much quicker. A device only downloads what it needs and only processes what it requires.
  4. You can focus on, develop, test and deploy for one platform, without having to worry about the other platforms. This means you can easily update your website in a staged fashion, rather than having to worry about how a change will affect the other platforms.
  5. Not having to worry about ALL the target platforms, your presentation layer code is much simpler.
  6. You can utilise Responsive techniques to present the best experience for each device in the adapted response. 


Adaptive: Cons

  1. There can be substantially more presentation layer code to maintain.
  2. And it therefore can take longer at first.
  3. Your back end code really needs to be very well structured. 


Responsive-only: Pros

  1. Clients really like to see their website transform in front of their eyes when they drag the bottom right corner of their browser in and out. In reality however, nobody does this in the real-world.


Responsive-only: Cons

  1. Your designs needs to be really simple to keep your presentation layer code under control.
  2. Point 2 above means that, in most cases, the user is not having the best experience on any platform.
  3. Much more complex JavaScript needed to deal with differing forms. Often you need JavaScript to work out whether you even need to use JavaScript to achieve something in the first place!
  4. With such a vast array of devices to target, code is invariably written to target 1 device and then is bloated with code so that it doesn't "break" on other devices.


Go for adaptive if:

  1. You want the best experience for your site's users.
  2. You want scalability.
  3. You want to be able to deploy your site safely in a staged fashion.
  4. You want to be able to easily add new target platforms in the future without rebuilding your entire website.
  5. You want your developers to have fewer headaches.


Insist on responsive if:

  1. If you want people to be wowed for 5 seconds, when they accidentally resized their desktop browser and happened to notice that something changed it's appearance to suit your now, very uncommonly sized view port.
  2. If you would rather wait until all the target platforms are ready to deploy, rather than getting your website out there as soon as possible.
  3. If you don't really care that you'll possibly have to all but rebuild your entire website every time you want to add a new platform.


Tee the arguments and gnashing though I stand by the above and unless I hear differently, Google doesn't care either way.

Though your users will in increased time on site, improved conversion rates and improved sales.