I've asked them for their definitions of AWD, where the confusion lies, and the best use cases for this approach.
Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh:
In many ways, adaptive is not dissimilar to a mobile specific site, in that the server delivers different content to different devices. Where it differs is in the logic used to determine which devices get which content.
On an m dot site, the URL tells the server that the client is on a mobile site; on an adaptive site the URL is consistent but the server uses device information sent along with the request to determine the page delivered.
Every time you view a webpage on the internet you send information about the device and browser you are connecting from, it looks something like this:
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_0 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/532.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0.5 Mobile/8A293 Safari/6531.22.7
In this instance, I am using an iPhone and my browser is Safari. So, much like an m dot site, the web server knows I am using a mobile, and sends the mobile content.
This ability to switch content (templates) based on server-side device detection is the heart of adaptive design.
James Gurd, Owner & Lead Consultant at Digital Juggler:
I like the clear distinction of defining AWD as using server side techniques to customise the assets/contents served based on device/browser and RWD as using client-side, or browser-based, techniques.
RESS effectively straddles the two. You're using a responsive code base and RWD principles but using server side techniques as well (I'll defer to the more technically versed to explain the details).
Justin Taylor, MD at Graphitas:
Adaptive web design will typically use a completely different set of designs and templates for each platform being targeted.
As a result, designers will create a desktop version of a website and will then design a separate mobile version (and possibly a separate tablet version also).