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Mobile-Only—Turning a Mile into a Marathon

Mobile Only: Week 40

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.

Ask any miler what the toughest part of the race is and they will invariably tell you it’s the third lap. The initial excitement of the gun and nervous butterflies are gone in the first lap, the getting down to business of the second lap has passed, and the final lap seems really far away. You are tired physically and psychologically. You second-guess yourself as you look around and everyone else seems to be humming along just fine. My coach would frequently recount something to the effect of, “The mile isn’t lost at the finish line, it’s lost on the third lap.” I remember I was always very happy at the completion of lap three to hear the last lap bell ring. So as I round the corner of three quarters of a year working mobile-only does that same relief rise up from inside with only one lap to go?

This quarter began with resolving some frustration. Due to various situations I had to wipe my phone a couple of times near the end of the halfway mark. Luckily, I was able to get to a point where a complete wipe of the device could have me back up and running in no time. This is a particularly important use-case for me givencAndroid’s ability to be customized so heavily.

I also spent a lot of time this past quarter looking at productivity on a mobile device. Does mobility make one automatically more productive? Does productivity actually decrease in an always-connected and always-working world? I also wondered whether we were getting maximum productivity out of a mobile device if we only imagine it to be a feeble view device? I even waxed philosophical on what is mobile and why aren’t more mobile types mobile?

Data popped up as a main theme for several posts in the third quarter. In particular, I wondered how our simple mobile user interfaces will respond as the rate of data growth explodes. Will the mobile user experience just become so bogged down that it will lead to increased frustration? I leveraged Dr. Seuss to ponder if you know what data you have. Finally, as an enterprise, are you able to take intelligent predictive action based on your data?

One of the highlights of this last quarter was getting in touch with a handful of people who have spent time working mobile-only or darn close to it. This to me is the most exciting part of the process as it is great to exchange successes and challenges with living/working a mobile lifestyle. It seems with each day more and more people are turning to mobile devices for content creation.

Over this last quarter I’ve had a blast kicking off the mobile-only video series on the Guardian with Samsung and SAP. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, take a peek. We have ten more planned and I look forward to some of the extreme mobile situations I’ll get to put myself into. My hope with the series is to demonstrate what’s possible through being mobile-only.

In some ways I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of the third lap, the third quarter, three in the afternoon, miles 18 to 22 of the marathon (OK I won’t lie, those miles suck). I can almost remember when it started. As a kid I’d often spend Saturdays working on house projects with my dad. I can distinctly remember one day when it was late in the afternoon; I felt tired and just wanted to quit. But, encouraged by my dad, I hung in there and overcame it. I learned that working through the third quarter is the only way you can feel the success of the finish. (Perhaps it also just reminds me of how much I liked hanging out with my dad.)

What is funny is that unlike the mile races I competed in during my youth, I didn’t really feel like my energy was totally spent this last quarter; I never wondered whether I could make it. Now that the self-imposed finish line of working a year mobile-only is in sight I am plenty confident that I’ll make it. In fact, the idea of just a year of mobile-only doesn’t make sense. What else would I do? Why would I go back to a PC? I can easily envision that this year will roll into another year and then another. Perhaps the reason the infamous third lap didn’t feel so painful this time is that around one of the bends I decided to turn a mile into a marathon and just keep on trucking. The dash turned into distance, the daunting into doable. Here’s to mobile-only!

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

One Comment

  1. Posted December 12, 2012 at 19:39 | Permalink

    In 2013, I challenge you to completely eschew mobility!!!

    Landlines, fax machines, and desktop PC’s only. Not even allowed to have a pager. :-)

    I theorize that it would be even more difficult than mobile-only has been. What do you think, Benjamin?

    - Walt

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