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Responsive Design – “mobile first” vs. “mobile only”

W4 | W4 / November 29, 2018

Nowadays, no website is solely built for desktop devices. The ongoing process of digitalization and the changes in the way the internet is used show that a mobile version is absolutely necessary. Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, are being used more than ever. Customers expect to use fully functional websites and online shops on their respective devices. Regarding the prioritization of mobile devices, the focus constantly shifted between “mobile first” and “mobile only” during the last few years. Not without reason: both options are advantageous, however the usage of any one or the other is dependent on context and required functions.

Table of Content
  1. The context dictates the focus
  2. Mobile first
  3. Mobile only
  4. The future stays mobile

The context dictates the focus.

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: the prioritization of devices depends largely on the context of usage. If you want to write a longer text, you will probably use the desktop computer since it is more comfortable. If you want to quickly edit and post a photo on a social network platform, a respective smartphone app is certainly the easier and faster option. Moreover, the location plays a key role in defining which device will be used. If you are on your way home from work, waiting for your train to arrive, the smartphone is surely the right option to pass your time. If you go on a long-distance flight, you probably want to use a tablet instead for watching a movie on a bigger display. Users constantly switch between devices. Some services are better accessed via the smartphone, others are targeted for the use at a desktop computer. However, it is clear that the respective situational context plays a decisive role in the choice of device.

Mobile first.

With the rapid distribution of smartphones, web design also shifted towards responsive design and "mobile first". Online shops as well as websites have consequently enriched their concept by including mobile versions of their pages. This new approach basically describes a prioritization. The correct displaying on mobile devices is of utmost priority when it comes to web development. Desktop versions are still being developed, however their importance only comes second. Developers are facing new challenges: they have to focus on developing an efficient, mobile design in which, for example, short loading time is of great importance. Every byte counts here. Only the essential should be displayed and thus developers cannot copy from already existent websites that have been optimized for desktop usage. Since the importance of mobile internet has rapidly grown during the last few years, developers focused on first creating websites for small devices before working on the desktop version. Considering the fact that many users prefer mobile devices, this seems to be a plausible course of action. In order to meet the expectations of the growing number of these users, it pays off to focus on mobile versions first.

Mobile only

Current numbers of internet usage show that about 60 % of users spend their online time in apps and mobile browsers – mostly in online shop apps. Mobile devices have become the most important source for buying decisions. The majority – which also includes millennials, who by now count as one of the most important target groups – is using the smartphone for browsing products and making up their minds about buying a product. In line with the trends, some companies like snapchat or musical.ly have developed applications that are exclusively working on mobile devices. In contrast to “mobile first” solutions, “mobile only” products are not realized for desktop computers at all. The functionalities of apps pose a challenge. They have to fulfill the customers’ expectations have regarding online shops. Moreover, they need to be user-oriented, fast, structured and sales-oriented. Developers thus have to re-invent the customer journey in order to meet the expectations and requirements of their mobile buyers.

The future stays mobile

Be it “mobile first” or “mobile only” – one thing is certain: the development of contemporary buying behavior influences design and realization of e-commerce platforms.  Which strategies should be adopted by individual companies largely depends on context and desired functionalities. Both options are applicable but depend on the target audience and the product - these have to be considered in every individual case. Online shops should provide both, an optimized solution for desktop as well as mobile, in order to comply with the current buying behavior: browsing on mobile devices, purchasing at the desktop computer. “Mobile only” makes sense if access to desktop devices is not possible, for example in threshold countries or during field work. Depending on the business model and the mobile marketing strategy, “mobile only” and “mobile first” may both work well. However, companies should never disregard developing solutions for mobile devices if they don’t want to seem out of date and miss the connection to the fast-growing market of mobile internet usage.

Tags: Website

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Sarah Wilhelm
Sarah Wilhelm
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