From the research I've done so far on this, the number one usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, appears to say that at least two separate versions of a site are necessary (a mobile one, and a desktop one), because the usability of a mobile site will suffer from the extra bandwidth incurred by the Desktop elements of the page, and a Desktop site will suffer from the lack of functionality on the page.
However, the article I was reading was a bit dated, so I've really got to wonder if this is still true when you factor in media queries.
It seems to me that it would be fine to have a single version of the site that runs on both mobile and desktop browsers; were it not for the fact that there are so many mobile browsers (and even some desktop browsers) that don't yet support media queries.
So if a user was running a rather obsolete phone with Internet Access, the user might end up with too much content that isn't even likely to ever be displayed on the page (thus upping their bandwidth bill).
But on the other hand if one was running say IE6-8, with no support for media queries, they might get the version of the site that has been optimized for the most obsolete mobile phone!
So it would seem to me that the Jakob Nielsen might still be right about this despite that the article is dated.
Am I right about this? What do you think?
What platform will the site run on?
We (as in the firm I work for) recently created a site which has a mobile version and a desktop version. We used Umbraco, which runs on .Net, and what we were able to do was create a set of separate nested masterpages for the desktop and mobile versions, but just one db of content. The homepage detects if a mobile browser is in use (using an open-source detection library - can't remeber which one off the top of my head, but one of the more common/well respected ones...) and uses the mobile masterpages in that situation. Each set of masterpages uses a different style sheet.
If a really obscure mobile browser is used, which isn't defined in the detection library, they will get the full home page, but we added a link to the footer to let users switch to the mobile theme manually.
It was really easy to set up and means no duplication of content, and everything is accessible :)
It seems Jakob is still right in theory, just the delivery that has changed - two sets of templates, not two entire sites...
Media queries aren't very reliable; you are better off with browser detection, or even screen size detection.
Personally, the reason I bought a smartphone was to be able to surf the real web. Unless there is a specific request for a mobile version of a site I just make sure it works and looks good in the major mobile browsers.