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How To Manage Dual WordPress Themes for Desktop & Mobile

by Jake Rocheleau

on May 29, 2013

in Wordpress

There are a number of great methods for handling user redirects on mobile. WordPress is one of the most popular CMS brands on the market. So it makes sense to work around these problems by putting together a two-way split for website themes. I want to present a list of ideas and plugins you may utilize for automatically switching between multiple themes on desktop and mobile devices.

iphone 3g activation featured image photo

It is understandable that WP webmasters will need a different type of theme switching based on their content. I think it is worth analyzing a couple methods to determine which is the safest, and the easiest to install. Typical users want to avoid as much code as possible. And thankfully it will help if you already have two themes installed which are designed to specifically handle desktop and mobile content.

Building with Plugins

Obviously the quickest and easiest method for any theme switching functionality is through WordPress plugins. The newly re-designed WP plugins listing has tons of free open source examples you can download to use in your layout. Be sure and check some related search queries to see if you can find any other similar plugins.

wordpress plugins theme switcher open source listing

My first and largest suggestion is for the Any Mobile Theme Switcher. The plugin gets frequent updates and currently handles the most recent version of WP 3.5.1. It also has a large number of reviews with 5 stars – and similarly absolutely no bad reviews have been given with 1 or 2 stars! It is safe to say AMTS plugin is very popular with the WordPress userbase.

Features include an admin dashboard settings page where you may choose which themes will be displayed for which devices. Obviously it is most common to select between the same 2 themes you want displaying for desktop and mobile platforms. Where this may differ is on tablet computers, depending on the width of the screen and the width of your website layout. You can view a set of screenshots from the plugin page details.

any mobile theme switcher plugin screenshots settings

I have been really content with this plugin since it does not require any major changes to the WordPress backend. It will quietly check a visitor’s browsing device and automatically handle the theme changes. Website performance should still run properly and visitors will not know too much has changed. And since this plugin is frequently updated I would have to recommend this for any general WP users or webmasters.

Mobile Smart

Another idea for a WordPress mobile theme plugin is called Mobile Smart. The plugin code will detect when a visitor is accessing your website from a mobile device, then automatically implements your chosen theme. You may also use related PHP template tags for determining the type of device. Read a bit more about this function on the plugin FAQ page.

mobile smart plugin website open source wordpress

I would say that Mobile Smart is within comparison similar to Any Mobile Theme Switcher. The functionality is a bit easier to use, which is nice for those who are not looking to manipulate settings pages. Mobile Smart is one basic installation which selects a single mobile theme of your choosing. Certainly nothing overly difficult and I would think it will be popular among webmasters who need something simple and efficient.

Ultimately it is your choice and it may be worth testing both plugins to see how you like them. I would argue there is no “right” and “wrong” answer, but merely personal preferences for which plugin handles the functionality better.

Custom Code Edits

An alternative route is to code your very own system for redirecting users to a mobile theme. This should obviously be considered more of a challenge and useful to developers who want a more customized interface. I found this excellent article about redirecting users to a mobile WordPress theme which goes into some more detail.

There are basically two methods following PHP and JavaScript. The PHP is more sound because you can write this code into a plugin and then active/deactive as you need. Similarly the WordPress filters & hooks functionality will make it even easier to include this PHP code in your website. The sample tutorial I linked to above is very short and does not fully explain how to code this into a plugin. But with some research, lots of effort, and possibly a bit of support online I’m sure it can be accomplished.

Writing Mobile-Friendly Content

As a small aside bit I want to share that writing content for a responsive or mobile website should be on your mind. This doesn’t mean you need to ultimately sacrifice pieces of your layout which desktop users would enjoy. But instead, consider removing these elements from the page in mobile themes via CSS display properties.

I think a similar article about ways to create mobile-friendly WordPress content has a ring of truth to all the topics. When structuring a website to handle mobile visitors you want to be conscious of this facet right from the get-go. Plan all webpage content accordingly and be prepared to handle weird bugs as the pop into your themes.

Overall the idea of switching between mobile and desktop themes has been a timeless piece of functionality. It has worked well for so many big corporations and startup launches. And I’m certain that mobile users will appreciate the courtesy of a mobile-centric theme as we look forward into the future as well.

Final Thoughts

It is worth pointing out that some WordPress developers may be interested to go the way of responsive design. This has been the case for the past two major WP theme releases, and it is very popular among web designers. But using two distinct themes for regular and mobile users can pave the way for a more unique system of managing content. You can organize theme-specific functions and codes to handle any number of different ideas and presentation methods. But if anybody has thoughts or ideas on theme switching in WordPress, feel free to share with us in the post discussion area below.

About Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a freelance writer and web developer. He writes articles for numerous blogs on freelancing, Wordpress, CSS3, and jQuery. You can find him all throughout Google and follow his tweets @jakerocheleau. Connect with Jake on Google +