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Mobility’s Relationship with Connectivity – On again/Off again

Mobile Only: Week 14

Benjamin Robbins, an EMF member, is spending the next year working solely from a single mobile device. Each week he shares his thoughts and experience with us on what it means to be mobile-only.

Over the last week I have had several conversations regarding working in an online/offline context. These conversations have approached the issue from many different angles – anywhere from airline travel to Google’s acquisition of Quickoffice. The ability/need to work in an offline context seems to be in question; some say offline is bloat, others say it is a requirement. As much as I’d love to say that I’m all-in when it comes to the cloud, I am still experiencing some very real offline roadblocks that impact productivity.

Let’s just start with the basics to frame the discussion. There are several practical examples of offline scenarios that crop up in my normal circles of operation that make a pure online play not possible. They are:

• Traveling/staying in remote areas – for example, my in-laws have a cabin where there is no cell reception.
• In the city where cell reception is poor and no WiFi options – for example, certain office buildings, restaurants, friends’ houses, etc.)
• Airplanes

When it comes to flying, sometimes you get lucky and GoGo is available on a plane. But the reality is you are just as likely to have an ash-tray in your arm-rest as you are a connection to the internet. If you have a 5 hour flight across the United States and are relying on connectivity to access your documents you are S.O.L. At that point you might as well just use your mobile device to play Angry Birds for the entire flight (as witnessed by a fellow twitterian recently); the score being; birds 100, productivity 0.

In light of the fact that you can’t count on connectivity, you would think that the appropriate response would be to just approach the mobile scenario as a completely offline experience and store all data locally. Here is the danger with that though. Devices are very susceptible to events such as loss, theft, dead battery, etc. A great example of this is that tens of thousands of phones are left in cabs every year; score; cab driver 1, you 0. I don’t want to be caught in a position where documents that I have put loads of time and effort in to drive away into the night. I want to take advantage of the tight integration of mobility and cloud services for redundant storage of my valuable efforts.

All hope is not lost. There are a few approaches I have been using to overcome my relationship with the on again, off again nature of internet connectivity. First, I do leverage native apps that provide me with total offline capability. This is especially true for productivity apps such as Quickoffice. I can live without use of twitter for a few hours, but the lack of being able to edit a document is not negotiable. Second, I leverage a cloud storage service such as Box, DropBox, SugarSync, etc. These types of services give me the best of both worlds by storing a copy of the document off of my device, but also allowing for offline access.

One complaint and thing you should be aware of about the offline capabilities of these cloud storage services. With these services you can have a copy of the file to work with offline, but with most of them if you modify the file while offline, when you regain connectivity you have to manually upload the new version of the file to the cloud. This is a pain and rather absurd. The service should just automatically recognize that a newer version is available and sync it automatically. If anyone has any ideas on how to make this re-sync process more automatic I’d greatly appreciate it.

It is unfortunate, but until we reach a point where internet connectivity can be a guaranteed five-nines (99.999) percent of the time, we will have to assure our apps and data are accessible offline. I look forward to the day when I don’t really even have to think about online versus offline. There is such a natural fit between mobile connectivity and cloud services that is seems silly we have to bother with offline scenarios at all. But in the meantime I’ll continue to make sure I stay productive all the time regardless of connectivity.

Benjamin Robbins is currently a Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at http://www.remotelymobileblog.com

8 Comments

  1. Posted June 7, 2012 at 08:00 | Permalink

    You should see if Google Drive’s automatic file syncing works for you.

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    • Posted June 7, 2012 at 09:10 | Permalink

      Dennis – thanks, will give it a try. You would think that this would be an obvious use case. Right now when you regain connectivity it will just overwrite your file with the one in the cloud if you try and open the file. The danger is that you can easily lose all your work if you don’t re-upload the file. I wonder if this is just an issue with not thinking of mobile devices as a tool for content creation.

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  2. Posted June 7, 2012 at 09:41 | Permalink

    The bottom line: The weak link in mobile is, and for a long time to come, the wireless link.

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    • Posted June 7, 2012 at 09:56 | Permalink

      Bob – very true. Until connectivity is so ubiquitous that you don’t even consider it, you’ll have to contend with offline scenarios.

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      • Posted June 7, 2012 at 14:32 | Permalink

        Ben – I seem to recall we were having a very similar conversation recently….and I brought up the five 9s issue. Until we have five 9s (heck, I’ll take four) of connectivity, Bob’s comment is dead on.

        Philippe

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        • Posted June 7, 2012 at 14:42 | Permalink

          Ha – yes – four would be fantastic! Yes – As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this topic has come up in many different ways this week. Our conversation definitely played into this post.(I wish it got recorded – was engaging and fun!) As mobile enthusiasts, I think we all would love to be down the road a bit, but all we can do for now is adjust as needed.

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  3. Posted June 7, 2012 at 14:37 | Permalink

    You will only need to wait about 3 years for 99.99% ubiquitous connectivity virtually anywhere you go. For example, White-Fi is on the horizon and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon with awesome opportunities, not just in the US but across the world.

    The FCC just recently announced a $300mm subsity and grant program to vendors to begin to build infrastructure across areas of the US that don’t have (affordable) mobile broadband with many more projects coming soon.

    The Obama admin and Congress has also comitted billions to close the holes in our mobile broadband system as well (rural electrification = rural mobilification).

    The cable companies and mobile ISP’s are flooding the world with micro and pico cells (WiFI/WiMax,etc) as we speak as well as corporates are building private networks as fast as they can. Also, highly adaptable and flexible “meshworks” are being tested and implemented very successfully around the world.

    Not to mention relatively low cost and high power(BGAN)satellite services available anywhere in the world, today. If you are a high value worker, its a deal for the company, especially if you use a mobile access platform like Renderprise to access all enterprise system processes and information that you need to conduct business. Renderprise uses a fraction of the bandwidth than any other mobile platform or technologies consume, making it a low cost, high availibility option.

    In addition, devices are being designed and built that have multiple waveform antenna’s that can leverage any network or waveform availble to you as you walk thru your world (sat, wifi, wimax, micro, whitefi, etc). They will automatically connect with the most efficient, secure, and low cost waveform with no user awareness or intervention required. Devices in the near future will not compete on device features and apps, as all mobile devices become a commodity, instead, they will compete on what connectivity options and services you have as “universal” bundled offerings. Meaning, that we will see the mobile service providers and others joining together (like airlines) to manage you as a customer that will be shared as you move from one network or waveform to the other, anywhere in the world.

    There are many new connectivity advances happening today that no one saw coming just 2 years ago. Image what is possible and sooner than you think. It’s not perfect yet, but just watch in amazement what happens. Off-line will go the route of the flightless Dodo birds (although there will be some uses, of course). Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and many others were right early-on in promoting the always-connected world.

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    • Posted June 7, 2012 at 14:44 | Permalink

      Mark – thanks for the info! 3 years? – I hope you are right! I would love nothing more than an always-connected experience.

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