Trying to present a website so it's viewed best on the users screen is nothing new, I remember putting off optimising websites for 800x600 resolution screens because a small percentage of users still used 640x480, I also put off taking advantage of popular 1024x768 resolution. When internet browsing on mobile phones became commonplace many companies generalised that mobile browsing = small screens and desktop browsing = large screen. These days with so many ways to browse the internet and technology being used in so many different ways it's impossible to make assumptions based factors as general as maximum available screen resolution or mobile vs desktop.
Mobile Browsing Doesn't Always = Small.
It's true, this year, as more mobile devices become available at affordable prices, more people are ditching the computer and even the laptop for browsing the web on the couch with smaller hand held tablets and phones therefore we must make sure websites function on smaller screens however there is another growing trend that we must take care not to forget; mobile browsing doesn't always mean smaller screens.
While smartphones have screens from 1" and up and tablet devices have screens ranging between 6 and 11 inches, there are a lot of new devices and ways of getting online which don't have small screens at all yet are being treat by many websites like they do.
My Laptop on the Train isn't Smaller than it is on My Desk.
One popular method of accessing the internet on the go, and sometimes at home, is through the use of mobile dongles and wireless internet tethering on smart phones, this gives allows users to connect their laptop or desktop computers to the internet using the mobile 3g and 4g signals which aren't that slow, when we consider not so long ago standard wired broadband speed was 512k -2mb. Unfortunately some websites will force users connecting to the internet using these methods to use a small, cut down version of their website.
Another up and coming trend is the increase in popularity of internet enabled devices such as TVset-top boxes, media boxes and even smart TVs which use mobile operating systems such as Google's Android, these devices allow users to browse the internet on 40 and 50 inch screens, and still some websites force these users into limited, mobile versions.
There's More to Mobile than iPhone
One more than worrying trend with mobile detection is the all too common belief that the only mobile in existence is the iPhone. This leads to companies doing one of two things; creating an iPhone optimised site which is served to the iphone (and often the ipad too) all other devices given the full desktop optimised, fixed width website, or investing thousands building an iPhone app which not only creates a need to keep the app synchronised with the website content but also requires development to keep up with Apples release timetable.
Aside from missing out on a large percentage of today's mobile market this attitude gives no consideration to how quick the mobile market can change, there's no guarantee the iPhone will be around in a years time, there's certainly no way to know if it'll have a large market share. You only have to look at Blackberry which in 2011 held 23% market share dropping to 7% in 2012 to see a website built for one mobile device could be useless to most in under 12 months.
Desktop Browsing Doesn't Always = Large.
Once again, it's too easy to assume desktop web browsing is done on a large screen, after all 20+ inch wide screen computer monitors are cheap and come as standard with new PCs and many laptops come with large wide-screen form factors.
Consider however that almost all modern operating systems allow us to take advantage of large screens by giving functions to dock and pin desktop windows to sections of the screen making multitasking much more commonplace, even on a large monitor less than half may be used to view a website.
Web Design Without Assumption
The best way we've found to create a website which looks good on a wide range of devices, doesn't make any assumptions; Responsive Web Design.
Responsive web design allows us to build sites which respond to the width of the web browser the user is viewing the website in, which when used right creates websites which can be viewed on all devices without the need to create and maintain a separate mobile site or assume all mobile users have a small screen and all desktop users maximise windows all the time.
Because we want to give our clients the best website they can have where possible we aim to build all of our clients websites with responsive features,