Totally agree, but it's important to differentiate between what he's talking about and say, an information-focussed website.
In the end, responsive design shouldn't be a religion, it's a method of building something. Sometimes that fits, sometimes it doesn't. We're paid the big bucks because we should be able to differentiate.
It seems he doesn't understand the basic fundamentals of how to implement RWD.
You don't turn an "elephant into a mouse", you turn a mouse into an elephant. Or in developer terms, you use a "mobile-first" approach.
Hiding and showing elements based on screen is not a smart way to go about delivering relevant content. It gets messy to maintain and results in additional HTTP requests. Conditionally loading the relevant content is a more efficient approach.
So yeah, if you don't know what you're doing, RWD can be difficult and inefficient. If you learn the basics though, it can be a really effective way to build websites, even pretty complex websites.
It's the same point in the end that you're missing.
When you have something that is radically (mouse vs elephant) different between mobile (small screen) and desktop (large screen)... then the html structure is so radically different that you end up coupling a design to DOM structure that doesn't necessarily make sense in both aspects. You end up having a larger document and complex CSS rules (and possibly back-end logic rules).
It definitely makes sense sometimes but as soon as it gets too complex it also makes sense to split them up.
One way isn't always the best or absolute way. Just choose the best tool for the job. It doesn't matter if you start mobile first.
I understand that RWD is not necessarily the right approach for mouse vs. elephant scenarios. It just seems that we have different opinions about what mouse vs. elephant scenarios are.
You can change the DOM structure pretty easily. Smart abstractions should keep the document at a reasonable size. In the right hands, these things are not huge problems.
I don't think anyone's arguing that there is an absolute right way. David is obviously a very smarty guy. It just seems like he is bringing up an old topic here and not adding anything new or interesting. In fact, he seems to be quite a way behind the curve.
He's talking about webapps, not content-based sites. RWD is great for sites where all you need to worry about is showing/hiding/rearranging content, but no amount of RWD is going to make Gmail, Facebook, or his product Basecamp usable in a mobile browser.
Of course, that's no reason to write off RWD. It's a great solution for most sites and apps. The moral of the story is that separate templates are simpler to implement and better for users in many cases.
I totally agree. Responsive is nice if you don't have much of a budget and want something that works for all devices. It makes sense to do a few nip/tucks to make it work for other devices.
But a lot of time, when you use the same content, you end up with either an overly complicated mobile app or a diluted, simplistic desktop app.
If you find yourself showing/hiding a bunch of different elements, wouldn't using a different template just be easier? (These different templates could also be responsive too!)
Also, I think it's well understood that the best UX has platform specific content. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/repurposing-vs-optimized-design/