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The Evolution of Mobile

Desktop. mDot. Adaptive. Responsive.

In all likelihood, you've mulled these scenarios over to discern how best to deliver content to your users. Previously, we discussed the challenges of complexity, connectivity, and speed for mobile application delivery in the enterprise. Beyond addressing these challenges, the crucial decision of how to best display your content remains. We outlined the evolution of mobile below to to better guide your content delivery efforts and show you where the application delivery is headed.

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Desktop Web
Long before the era of BlackBerries and iPhones there was the desktop web, built on the foundation of pinch-and-zoom. The desktop era was built for large, high resolution screens, with robust processing power behind them. With the introduction of true mobile browsers, users found desktop browsers difficult to navigate on their small screens. Beyond the navigational concerns, compatibility was another issue. After Steve Jobs famously decried Adobe Flash's performance and battery implications and barred it from iOS, content providers quickly discovered how dependent their sites were on Flash. The writing was on the wall: content providers needed to create an environment that catered to mobile users, without relying on heavy Flash elements.

In today's modern mobile environment, a desktop only website is unacceptable. They're a poor user experience for mobile customers and should only be a stopgap solution until a true mobile site can be implemented.

mDot (m.)
Following the rise of smartphones, developers realized they needed a way to optimize their content for small screens. This need led to the birth of traditional "mDot" or "m." sites. mDot sites are small in size, limited in functionality, but offer a dedicated small-screen experience. In essence, the mDot site was an entirely distinct experience from the desktop experience -- from the feature set down to the hyperlink. Having distinct desktop and mobile hyperlinks can be particularly frustrating to users in an era of social media. For example, when a user shares a website from their phone someone else may open that same link on their desktop browser. Now that same desktop user loads a site designed explicitly for mobile on their large monitor -- a suboptimal user experience.

Nowadays, companies are moving away from the mDot sites of the past. While mDot sites were able to provide a dedicated mobile experience, they introduced additional complexity into the web development and delivery process, added additional latency with redirects, diluted link equity, and remained feature limited. A limited feature set can be particularly frustrating for users who are forced to move to their desktop to complete an action. In short, unless you're serving content in an extremely low-bandwidth scenario, .mdot sites are not recommended.

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Adaptive is an overloaded term. For our use, "Adaptive" refers to a site that maintain a single URL, despite two separate website "apps" -- one desktop and one mDot. Continuing the mobile evolution, adaptive sites were born out of a desire for simplicity, search engine optimization/link equity, and as a way to buy time before moving to a fully responsive site.

With an adaptive site, when a user clicks on a link the server adaptively decides which web app to serve the user based on their device. If the server detects a user connecting from a desktop, the user will be sent to the desktop site and vice versa in the case of a mobile device. Adaptive sites can be particularly beneficial to developers who don't have the resources to create a fully responsive site, but want the benefits of a single URL.

Responsive Web Design (RWD)
Finally, responsive web design represents the culmination of these disparate solutions and the most modern option available to developers. Responsive web design is fundamentally different than traditional desktop and mDot sites. While these sites were crafted as standalone experiences for a subset of device types, responsive web sites use a single codebase that serves all users across all devices.

With a single codebase, developers benefit from more streamlined operations (easier to develop, monitor, and QA), while marketers benefit from consistent social media linking. To revisit our social media example, when a user opens a responsive site, the site opens the best version of the site that's specifically tailored for the user's device. Marketers also benefit from the delivery of feature-rich experiences, across devices. No longer will mobile users leave a site frustrated when desktop features were left on the cutting room floor. Marketers aren't the only ones to benefit from a responsive web design philosophy. Developers, benefit from a design that's future friendly and scales to meet the device demands of today and tomorrow.

Responsive web design does come at a cost, however. Namely, responsive sites are far heavier to deliver, which can be especially taxing for mobile users on low-bandwidth cellular networks. Over-downloading is the central problem of responsive design. For example, if you're spending 30 seconds loading content before a user can interact, what does that mean for the end-user experience, conversion, and abandonment rates? Often it means missed opportunities and a frustrated user.

With these concerns in mind, responsive web design is the here to stay. But, it can be even better for marketers and developers alike. In the coming years, future implementations will include responsive server side decision making, helping to alleviate the pain points of over downloading. Head over to akamai.com/appdelivery to learn how Akamai's world-class enterprise application delivery solutions can help bring your site into the future.