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Looking Back – A Year of Mobile Only

Mobile Only: Week 52

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.

One trip around the sun. I’ve made it. After spending the week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where I began living mobile-only 52 weeks ago, I’ve spent one year relying solely on my smartphone. What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago I embarked on a journey to extricate myself from the PC. With my smartphone in hand I’ve accomplished the task. So what did I learn in this 52-week adventure and was it a success?

From a practical perspective I’ve learned that there are certain needs of human ergonomics that you just can’t engineer your way around no matter how cool the technology. I can say with confidence that a monitor and keyboard are not going anywhere anytime soon.

A monitor is an essential piece of equipment. We crave bigger digital landscapes. Convenience is one thing, but the more we use these devices for work purposes, the more we look for phones with bigger screens. Perhaps this is why the recent wave of announcements from handset manufacturers is dominated by phablets and mini-tablets.

As well, a keyboard is still the fastest way to enter data in bulk into a computer device. As form factors such as touch, voice, and wearable computing continue to evolve, they still present a challenge to enter any large amounts of data. Eventually devices will evolve to where they are so cheap you will have purpose-built devices that will be less constrained by this issue.

As far as success goes, there are many ways to measure that. First, there are the obvious technical aspects. I was able to use the technology to get the job done. In every instance I was able to find a like equivalent for the task I needed to do. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some work-arounds and hurdles. But the apps and services are evolving so fast that, often, what was an issue yesterday is no longer an issue today.

I’ve also changed by mindset on what it means to create, connect, and collaborate. Mobility has provided the backdrop for a new pretense in productivity. I don’t see a mobile device as an add-on to my work routine; it is my work routine. It took some time, but I can say with confidence that I rewired my professional brain to think of my tasks and workflow in terms of mobile rather than PC.

Perhaps best of all was that over the course of the year I connected with some really bright, fun, innovative, and passionate people. I even got to meet some of them in person. This, more than any digital workflow, is the real promise of mobility. It’s the ability to connect with the right people at the right time. Perhaps you already know them; perhaps you’ll discover them as you go. This connected world we are creating holds great promise for those willing to take advantage of it.

I may have struggled with devices, apps, and operating systems. But it is connecting with people that really categorized mobile-only as a success in the end. Doing my job faster and in a more fun manner is great, but as with the advent of the Internet, mobility is opening up never-before-possible worlds of making connections with others around you.

My last bit of advice is to be mindful that the pursuit of anytime, anywhere doesn’t come at any cost. There is a time for the phone and a time to be with people. Mobility is a tool that we should control and not the other way round. Mobile should facilitate our interactions and make them richer; not hinder them as we bury our faces in our phones. Whatever it is that feels so urgent you just have to check real quick is probably more habit than “have to.” Remember to look up as much as you are looking down.

So what will tomorrow bring? I imagine there will be a new mobile device or two in my life. I imagine their form will change radically. I imagine they will connect with each other and understand my context before I do. As for me, I will still show up to work, the same as I have the rest of the year, with my phone in hand ready to create, connect, and collaborate. Here’s to mobile-only!

Benjamin Robbins is a co-founder at Palador, a mobile strategy and solutions consultancy located in Seattle, WA. He can be followed on Twitter @PaladorBenjamin.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 7, 2013 at 20:48 | Permalink


    Great job documenting your experiences. I can definitely say that the process opened my eyes to the utility of mobile devices for work, play and movie production.

    Excellent job.


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