The decision to optimise a site for mobile or build a full mobile site that works on all handsets has always been a tricky one for marketers.

Mobile specialists have tended to opt for creating a ‘full’ mobile site that works on all handsets but with times changing, could the days of the ‘mobile only’ web developers be numbered?

I’m not a massive fan of the “X vs.Y” school of thought. We see it all the time in mobile with “web vs. apps” and “iOS vs. Android” stories.

It’s a fairly lazy, yet effective, way of generating tweets and comments. However, there is one less well publicised area where a true battle is breaking out.

The ‘web developers vs. mobile web developers’ debate

Anyone acquainted with mobile will know that up until quite recently, most of the big web agencies ignored mobile as a communications channel. As a result, a number of specialist mobile web development companies sprang up to meet growing demand.

They subsequently built some excellent platforms, serving ‘best possible’ web pages on thousands of devices from lowly feature phones through to high end smartphones.

This became the solution of choice for those of us keen to provide all mobile users with a good user experience. So far so good for the mobile companies.

The problem is that these platforms now look as if they are built on a somewhat shaky foundation. They assume that we need to make our sites work on all handsets. We don’t. When the majority of the population didn’t have smartphones it was essential to make sure your site worked on all handsets.

The mobile companies would smugly point out that they would provide ‘best possible on every phone and that normal sites didn’t work because they used tables or the page load was too high.

They were right because the stats showed that a significant number of feature phone users still accessed the web through these devices.

The problem is that, more and more, I research mobile ownership for our clients using comScore, which reveals that 65%, 75% or 80% of their particular target audience have smartphones.

Additionally, I very safely predict that by January more than 50% of UK phones will be smartphones. Why then, should we pay big bucks for a specialist solution when talented web developers can make one site work across multiple devices/platforms, including PCs, with all the attendant cost savings?

Clearly there are differences of context, navigation, file size and so on, but all these have solutions that can work on decent phones. It’s still not the right solution for all situations, such as targeting the very elderly or financially challenged, but it’s definitely heading that way very rapidly indeed.

What about those people who still have feature phones?

Well, to put it bluntly, in many cases, you can just throw them out of the equation. Is there much point in advising clients to spend money on people who won’t visit the pages?

Smartphones are not the preserve of rich marketers anymore so many people who are likely to interact via mobile are likely to have already upgraded. As this continues apace, will we be better off spending the cash on a better smartphone experience?

We need to accept that cheap smartphones are likely to kill off feature phones much faster than previously thought in many markets and that traditional web companies will then step up to the plate with “device agnostic” digital approaches that actually make sense.

Where does that leave all those lovingly crafted, device detecting, image re-purposing mobile only solutions and the companies who develop and run them?