Responsive versus Adaptive: Which one to go for?


One of the big advantages of responsive design that propelled it to instant stardom was that a single codebase served well for both the desktop and mobile user. This made a developer’s life easier as it almost eliminated the nightmarish experience of having to look after multiple code versions for different device types. However, the same code for both the devices means that the website being launched on smartphone will have the same size and complexity as the desktop version, which is the main culprit behind responsive websites behaving weird and bloated on mobile devices.

On the other hand, using an adaptive approach, a server has the freedom to choose how to optimally render pages, removing or adding functionalities on the fly, on the basis of the device detected and the user information.

The benefits can be summed up as below:

Developers wouldn’t have to recreate the website from scratch as one would have to while going for responsive site. Most websites become too complex over the time, with one functionality being added on top of the other and scratching all the effort is not a viable option. The design and testing phase is particularly fussy as it is difficult to customize the user experience for every device or context.

1. Adaptive websites are faster and sometimes more user-friendly. The reason is simple enough. As adaptive delivery works by transferring only the device specific assets, images and multimedia content can be optimized on the fly to suit display resolution and size.

2.The server-side adaptive offers distinct templates for every device, enabling greater level of customization along with faster loading of web pages. In addition, it is compatible with different server-side plugins which are available for popular content management systems and eCommerce systems such as Magento. However, this approach requires considerable changes to the back-end systems, and if you are on a budget, it could prove a little painful. You will be required to manage multiple templates which will show as a bump in the maintenance cost. Performance issues can also arise when servers are under heavy load.

Bottom Line


Content-heavy websites where there is not much of a difference in user intent between desktop and mobile users generally go for responsive design. However, if you are designing a website where the mobile user intent is significantly different than your desktop target audience, adaptive design will be a better bet. The example is e-commerce websites.

Besides, if a webmaster chooses adaptive design, he or she can further optimize the user experience by taking advantage of the extra features that these devices offer, for instance, location. That is exactly why 82 percent of the Alexa top 100 global sites use some kind of server-side detection to serve content.

For most organizations using responsive design in conjunction with adaptive delivery works well. The content heavy portion of the site uses responsive approach allowing readers to consume the content in a satisfying manner no matter which device they are on. On the other hand high intent portions of the site work well through adaptive delivery. The key is to find a balance between serving your users and meeting the business objective.

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