Almost every new client these days wants a mobile version of their website. It's practically essential after all: one design for the BlackBerry, another for the iPhone, the iPad, netbook, Kindle - and all screen resolutions must be compatible, too. In the next five years, we'll likely need to design for a number of additional inventions. When will the madness stop? It won't, of course.
In the field of Web design and development, we're quickly getting to the point of being unable to keep up with the endless new resolutions and devices. For many websites, creating a website version for each resolution and new device would be impossible, or at least impractical. Should we just suffer the consequences of losing visitors from one device, for the benefit of gaining visitors from another? Or is there another option?
Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user's behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user's preferences. This would eliminate the need for a different design and development phase for each new gadget on the market.
Ethan Marcotte wrote an introductory article about the approach, "Responsive Web Design," for A List Apart. It stems from the notion of responsive architectural design, whereby a room or space automatically adjusts to the number and flow of people within it:
"Recently, an emergent discipline called 'responsive architecture' has begun asking how physical spaces can respond to the presence of people passing through them. Through a combination of embedded robotics and tensile materials, architects are experimenting with art installations and wall structures that bend, flex, and expand as crowds approach them. Motion sensors can be paired with climate control systems to adjust a room's temperature and ambient lighting as it fills with people. Companies have already produced 'smart glass technology' that can automatically become opaque when a room's occupants reach a certain density threshold, giving them an additional layer of privacy."
With mobile internet users outgrowing desktop users (in some countries) mobile friendly websites are a must.
In the past we have often recommended a solution of a one page mobile friendly website on a subdomain like m.example..com, redirecting all smartphone traffic to that page. It's not the best solution but it was the most affordable solution.
But we have stopped recommending that solution a long time ago as Google has made it so clear that they want each desktop page to have its own mobile counterpart either on a different URL with a redirection or using responsive design where the same URL will serve all devices.
Google has been encouraging web masters to create mobile friendly websites following their best practices for years, showing the tremendous advantages of having a mobile friendly website (read: responsive design)