After Hours

10 things to consider before going mobile-only

Many users are abandoning their desktops and notebooks in favor of mobile devices. If you plan to go that route, be sure you can deal with this list of issues.

Lately, it has become popular for people to ditch their desktop and notebook computers and move entirely to mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones. For some people this has worked out very well, while other people end up retreating back to their PCs. If you are considering this kind of switch for yourself, these 10 questions will help you decide if the move can work for you.

1: Do you type a lot?

One of the biggest changes when you shift from laptops to mobile devices is the text input situation. If you do a lot of typing, make sure that the mobile platform that you are considering has external keyboards available and that they are good enough to get your work done. You may find yourself picking a platform (or not going mobile-only at all) based on this consideration alone.

2: Will you need connectivity outside of known Wi-Fi connections?

Some folks are using mobile platforms but staying within relatively limited, known areas (perhaps almost all their use is at home and in the office). Others are all over the place: meetings with clients, use in restaurants, airports, and other public places, and so on. If you fall into the latter group, you need to make sure that whatever mobile platform you choose has cellular connectivity built in, with carriers that cover the areas you where you'll be. Otherwise, you may be able to save some money and just go Wi-Fi-only on the devices (other than the phone, of course).

3: Where will you be storing your data?

One of the pain points I see is that when people used digital cameras and synced to a PC, it was easy to back up those precious memories. But when folks move entirely to a cell phone for their camera and upload only a percentage of the pictures somewhere, it is easy to lose all the pictures. Now extend that problem to everything you do with a computer. Is the data all going to sit on the device? If so, you'd better have a way to back it up. Is it going to a cloud system somewhere? You need control over that cloud to rescue your data or move it to another device if necessary.

4: Are the applications you need available?

With only a few exceptions, you aren't likely to find mobile versions of the desktop applications you are accustomed to using. But you should make sure that suitable replacements exist for the platform you are considering. Also, do not assume that the Web applications you use will work well on the devices. Some of them may be very network-intensive and not perform well on cellular connections. And not all Web applications adapt well to the smaller screens found on tablets and phones, or they require browser plugins that might not work on a mobile platform.

5: What does the IT department require or recommend?

If you intend to be able to work with your employer's resources, can you? For example, some VPNs require special software that might not run on mobile devices. Or the IT department may have rules about what devices are allowed or how much access they have. You can find yourself in a situation where you are not allowed to work with the company's data at all with your devices and be forced to stick to a PC.

6: Can you live without certain peripherals?

While a variety of peripherals are available for various mobile platforms, certain things, like scanners, are not likely to directly connect. Stand-alone digital cameras, if you use one, may not connect to a tablet or a phone. If you depend on these kinds of devices, there is a good chance that you will not be able use what you have with amobile device, though you may find versions that will work for you.

7: Tablet + phone or phone-only?

Are you planning to use just a phone to replace your PC needs? Or is a tablet going to be in the mix too? If you do plan on using both (and you probably should, if you really want to do this at all), you will most likely want to make sure that they run the same operating system (iPhone and iPad or Android on both). That way, you'll need to know just one operating system and you can share applications and have the same experience on both devices. Keep in mind that this can become an expensive proposition. (A decent tablet costs more than a netbook and as much as a low-end notebook.) And if both devices have cellular connectivity, your costs are going up even more.

8: Will you need to print?

Printing is currently the Achilles Heel for many mobile devices. We've been promised the "paperless office" now for countless years, but it just is not here yet for many people. Others, though, seem to manage just fine without a printer for months or even years at a time. If you are one of those people, making this transition will be a lot easier for you.

9: What advantage is there?

It may be stylish or cool to ditch a PC for a tablet and phone, but ask yourself this: "What is the benefit?" Once you put a tablet inside a sleeve with a built-in keyboard, it's about the same size and weight as many notebooks, which are much more full-featured and powerful. The big advantage is (currently) battery life, reducing the need to carry around the big brick charger that notebooks seem to need. But you are potentially giving up a lot of functionality in exchange. Really understand your motivations before you break open your piggy bank.

10: Can you afford it?

Playing the mobile game is an expensive proposition. The quality tablets worth using tend to be priced in the same ballpark at notebooks, but they also seem to come with service plans from carriers. And that notebook may even come bundled with a copy of Microsoft Office or other software, which you will need to purchase separately or find an equivalent for on the mobile platform.

The biggest cost of a mobile-only strategy seems to be a combination of device lifespan and techno-lust. Many cell phones struggle to make it past a year without replacement, it seems like. Tablets and phones are not as rugged as computers are, and with the abuse of a mobile lifestyle they break down. In addition, there is a constant stream of new devices to attract your spending. With PCs, each year's models are a progressive evolution compared to previous models, and operating systems can be upgraded. With phones and tablets, the "latest and greatest" is often significantly better. Staying up to date with mobile technology can be expensive. If you aren't willing or able to pay, you shouldn't be playing.

Your take

Do you foresee other problems for users who decide to go the all-mobile route? Are you thinking about abandoning your own desktop/notebook for mobile — or have you already?

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

Editor's Picks