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.)
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