jQuery Mobile or responsive design?

For those of you not in the know, jQuery Mobile is a JavaScript framework for creating website optimized for mobile and other touch-based devices. By default, it gives sites the appearance of iOS apps, complete with menus, swipe gestures, and transitions. You can change the appearance and colour scheme of the menus and content, but their overall appearance and arrangement is pretty much fixed. It is a clever tool, but I am not convinced it is the best fit for all sites. Here’s why.

Design is cool

Yes, jQuery Mobile has a “theme framework” that lets you adjust the appearance of your site. However, this is still quite limited when compared to the freedom of designing a site from scratch. A jQuery Mobile site will always be made up of the same basic elements and toolbars. If you are not a designer and you just want a basic site up and running and working on mobile devices, then maybe it’s a good choice. But to me, the sacrifice in design freedom feels like giving up.

Too much mobile

By default, a jQuery Mobile site looks a lot like an iOS app. If you’re a fan of Apple’s products, you’ll feel right at home. You can adjust the theme a bit, and it will look good on any mobile or tablet. However, it still looks like a mobile app on a desktop or laptop computer. To me it seems a bit too mobile, and a bit too iOS. If you’ve got a separate site for big computers, maybe this wouldn’t bother you. If you are relying on it entirely, it might look a bit out of place on a desktop computer.

Too much JavaScript

Obviously, jQuery Mobile uses JavaScript to provide its additional functionality. A site built with jQuery Mobile will still work without JavaScript switched on, but it doesn’t leave you with a very touch-optimized static HTML and CSS page. It also means more data to download and more scripts to process on what might be a small, slow, low-powered device. Perhaps I am being too picky (or just old-fashioned) here, but I prefer not to rely entirely on JavaScript for core functions or appearance.

Conclusion

I am not trying to say that jQuery Mobile is a bad thing. It is a good system for generating reliable mobile-optimized sites with a minimum of effort and in a relatively small package. If you don’t mind handing over control of design and you are looking exclusively at touch-based devices, it is probably a good tool for the job.

However, for me at least, removing the freedom of design and layout removes a key aspect that makes each website unique. We are just getting started with responsive design and media queries and these let you design whatever you want.