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Collective Wisdom – Mobile-Only Strategies

Mobile Only: Week 33

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.

Last week I was seriously wondering if mobility was a mere convenience rather than a serious productivity tool. I pondered the question, if mobility is the wave of the future, then why is no one riding it all the way to shore? I even stated, “Mobile man (or woman) show thyself.” Well, this week I had the good fortune of talking to not one, but two individuals who work in a (near) mobile-only capacity. They have chosen to work a majority of their time on mobile devices rather than PCs. The part that was most interesting was how both individuals’ strategies and approaches to working mobile-only are similar to my own experience. This provided some common insight into the mobile-only approach.

From an apps perspective, both grouped apps categorically by top-level function. For example, whereas on the PC one would use Microsoft Outlook for notes and tasks, on a mobile device the same functionality was provided by a group of apps such as Evernote, OmniFocus, and Nozby. Each app provides its own unique function, but they are brought together to work in concert. The “there’s an app for that” phenomenon provides mobile workers the ability to build their own suites; to assemble the right ecosystem of apps for their needs. Gone are the days of big, bloated, monolithic applications. Mobile workers intuitively build suites of apps. App vendors should take heed of this—no app is an island. Apps need to function within a group of similar-function apps to survive or otherwise suffer the fate of collecting cobwebs on the app store shelf.

My conversations also revealed that, on mobile devices, users can build custom suites that don’t even exist in the PC realm. Travel suites, food suites, workflow suites, and so forth—all based on an individual’s need. These app groups have no direct PC equivalent as far as an application is concerned. The closest possibility on a PC would be a collection of websites. However, since desktop applications and web apps developed in separate “eras” of computing they aren’t organized in as seamless a setting as is possible with mobile apps. This is a massive advantage mobility has over PCs in streamlining functionality.

Another common theme of my conversations this week to my mobile-only experience revolved around power, peripherals, and cords. The first peripheral discussed was the keyboard and its centrality to speed and productivity. Like it or not, it is currently the fastest data input mechanism we have. Voice control technologies offer the promise to change that in many ways, but for the time being, if you have to do a data dump, a Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard (or your language’s equivalent) is the fastest bet. Yes, you can get your work done with the on-screen keyboard but the collective experience seemed to be that it just isn’t as fast.

Second, as untethered a lifestyle as mobility provides, there are still essential cables that no one has yet seemed to have been able to ditch. Power is the most obvious and required cable. Wireless charging capabilities have the ability to change that, but are not available in any widespread form. I also found out that I am not the only one carrying around dongles and cables to be able to connect to monitors and projectors. This is essential for client presentations. Until wireless display technologies such as WiDi and Airplay are commonplace this will remain the case. The end result is that even though we may have ditched the laptop, we have yet to ditch the laptop bag because we still need a place to put the cables and cords!

Lastly my conversations involved the necessity of an offline strategy when it comes to working mobile-only. The near-ubiquitous connectivity of mobile networks is just not near enough to bet your working life on it. You must have a plan for how to keep working when the Internet is not. It is a reality that will have to be contended with for at least the near future. It is a risky option to go with an all-cloud approach. You could find that you are without access to your data.

As these limitations of mobility fade into the past and more people discover the advantages of mobile apps and integration I hope that these types of conversations will increase. In fact, my hope is that working mobile-only grows so much that there is no need to even make a distinction—it will just be called work. Then we can just go back to the good ol’ days of lamenting about what we don’t like about our jobs.

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


  1. Posted October 22, 2012 at 17:35 | Permalink

    Mobility is still a double-edged sword as it evolves.
    Downside is that we are still working towards getting all the right tools, working together, to be as efficient as on a PC.
    Upside? We already are nearly as efficient and we achieve that level everywhere we go.

    I literally don’t leave the house without my laptop and phone.

    Agreed 100% that stand-alone apps will become dinosaurs, no matter how good they are… if they can’t play well with others, they will become extinct.

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  2. Posted October 25, 2012 at 13:25 | Permalink

    OK, here is my issue with the build-your-own bundle approach. No matter how many different applications you find, the data exchange between them wil always be limited. To start with, Android does not have very robust exchange patterns. You can “share” a file between apps and some apps will identify as being able to handle various file types or actions, but this is limited in scope and implementation. The only way around this would be for different applications to know and code for the ability to send data back and forth. This happens in some instances where one application has dominant market share and other apps want to piggy back off that where they can. Unfortunately though the phenomenon is all too rare. The biggest example of this failure is the lack of integrated messaging/scheduling applications. Yes, you can find ones that will integrate will with Exchange and give you emal, calendar and tasks. But what about those who need multiple IMAP accounts and have varous cloud based calendars? Where is my Thunderbird replacement on Android? Why can I not view and handle meeting invites sent to an IMAP account on any of the mail clients? I’ve recently replaced my desktop computer with an Android tablet and this is the single largest pain point for me. Second would be the lack of a window mananger and the inability to take advantage of the pixles available on my wide screen monitor, but that’s another topic.

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