Mobile Only: Week 23
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.
This past week I was in a holding pattern. The upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich(ICS) gorked up my device. The update caused enough issues that I needed to roll-back to the previous OS version. Yet, the service center at AT&T was waiting for the software to flash the device back. I had wanted to keep my mobile-only experience to only using out-of-the-box capabilities because I wanted to make sure that others could easily follow in my footsteps. However, since I had some time waiting for a reset from AT&T, I figured now was as good a time as any to experiment with rooting the device.
Having rooted devices in the past, I wanted to leverage CyanogenMod. CyanogenMod is an open source distribution of the Android mobile operating system. I had hoped to take Jelly Bean, the most recent version of Android, for a spin but CyanogenMod 10 for the AT&T Galaxy Note had so many issues that it was pulled it off the site. I opted instead to compare CyanogenMod 9 (ICS) to the version already on my device.
The root wasn’t without issue. Truth be told, after my first attempt to root the device, the phone was in the state of being a soft brick for a short while. A soft brick is where the phone turns on, but it gets stuck indefinitely during the device loading. Luckily, one of our knowledgeable IT folks here at Palador has been in the situation before and was able to help get the device out of that state.
I had been concerned about rooting the device. Enterprise mobile security best-practices advise against allowing rooted devices on the network. Rooting allows for too much control over the device and can easily create untested user configurations. Also, as I have already mentioned, I wanted to keep my mobile-only experience ‘pure’ and only use stock deployments. Yet, after seeing the performance and capability differences I am beginning to think twice.
There are many improvements that come native with CyanogenMod for someone who is working mobile-only. Some of these differences are small, but they represent a significant difference in terms of productivity. To start, spell check is built directly into the OS. This means that rather than have spellcheck as a feature only available if the app vendor has decided to build it in, it is automatically part of all apps, complete with red underline.
Another huge productivity improvement is that the on-screen keyboard is minimized as soon as the OS detects a connection with a Bluetooth keyboard. With the stock build I had to enable a ‘null’ keyboard every time to get it off the screen. This added several extra steps many times a day that is now gone altogether. It was one of those annoyances I put up with, but really saw it as an impediment to a serious use of Android in the enterprise.
Even the native email client has a user interface and layout better suited to mobile-only in the CyanogenMod distribution. As well, the amount of extraneous apps is significantly reduced. With the rooted version, I get to start with the bare minim of capabilities and only install those apps that I need.
With all these improvements and overall lack of OS clutter, I began to look at rooting a mobile device much like I did in the past when I purchased a new PC. The first thing I always did at the earliest convenience after the purchase of a new PC was to wipe the computer and install a fresh build of Windows. It took up less space, ran smoother, and put the experience in a known state. The amount of junk that came pre-configured on the PC was staggering. I never once regretted getting rid of the factory installed applications on my PC. Rooting my phone made me realize just how many extraneous apps were on the stock version of the device and how I haven’t missed any of them.
So here is my dilemma. I had originally planned to return the device back to its stock build after testing and comparing the rooted version of ICS. However, now that the device is running so well and I am seeing huge productivity gains, I am not so sure. The phone now ‘just works’ the way I would expect it to. It is much closer to being that uber mobile thin client I envision mobile becoming. It would feel like a step-backwards at this point to revert. What do you think? Should I stick with the rooted version? What do you see as the pros and cons? Post a comment – I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Benjamin Robbins is co-founder and 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://remotelymobileblog.com