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3 articles that discuss the differences between "responsive" and "adaptive" web design
- http://blog.easy-designs.net/archives/2011/11/16/on-adaptive-vs-responsive-web-design/
- http://simplebits.com/notebook/2011/08/19/adapted/
- http://www.lullabot.com/articles/responsive-adaptive-web-design

As pointed out by +Luke Wroblewski a while ago.

My take on it is that responsive design is a subset of adaptive design, and that responsive refers specifically to the layout. Adaptive design enhances the functionality of the experience based on the device's capabilities.

Is this device capable of making a phone call? Does this device support touch events? Can this device access a user's location? If so, enhance the experience to exploit these capabilities.

Perhaps you'd want to inject a tap-friendly "call now" button if the device can make a call. Maybe make that sexy image carousel swipeable in addition to the previous/next buttons (but please, don't get rid of the previous/next buttons). Add a "Use My Location" button to deliver store location results instead of having to awkwardly fill out a form.

Responsive design is great and flexible layouts are crucial, but we can't think of our content so one-dimensionally. These emerging contexts provide fantastic opportunities to take advantage of their unique features.
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Mike Buttery's profile photoBart Baekelandt's profile photoBrad Frost's profile photoRonan Cremin's profile photo
12 comments
 
If these are the distinctions we can all agree that we disagree about - the battle is already won.
 
+Ronan Cremin Absolutely. And content adaptation is where most of the missed opportunities occur. People tend to forget that these other devices are capable of doing things desktop counterparts can't. I think responsive web design is indeed a great first step to thinking beyond the desktop. It's now up to us to take it further.

Great article, I enjoyed it when it first came out and enjoyed rereading it today!
 
Thanks Brad. By the way, I just ran a check of the Alexa top 100 sites. About 85% of them are using device detection on the server to deliver an entirely different HTML document to different classes of device (I checked FF8, iPhone, Nokia 6300).
 
Very interesting! I'd love to see that posted somewhere!
 
Hint hint, nudge nudge :)
 
:) I'll be doing a post on mobiForge sometime soon. The main thrust behind this is to try to get people on board with 'proper' adaptation, for all of the reasons you mention above. If web designers view mobile as merely smaller it's a huge lost opportunity. The mobile browser is arguably more capable than any desktop browser, not less. By showing that the big brands who live and die by mobile (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Ebay etc.) are all doing proper adaptation, I'm hoping to convince people that it's the right way to go.
 
Thanks for the clarification. I had been calling some of my work 'responsive' although it includes a variety of fixed fluid grids, and content being added at breakpoints. So I can call this 'adaptive' now?
 
I think the problem with the terms lies in the - in my opinions - mis-use of the word design. Design is not only about layouts. Responsive websites should be "responding" to the width, device, location, time, user to be really designed responsive.
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