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.

17 comments
Anthony Rice
Anthony Rice

Just give me a good laptop and wireless and I'm happy. You can even take my phone. Please take my phone...

roystreet
roystreet

I have a windows tablet (Acer w500) & an iPhone 4 The tablet runs Win7 so all of my existing windows applications & hardware connects just fine. It has both wireless & wired network capability It includes a detachable keyboard. If you want to bring the keyboard, it can snap closed just like a laptop. As well, it 2 USB ports & HDMI. It light & battery last around 6 hours or so. The list goes on & pretty lightweight. This machine goes a long way to replace a laptop, so yes, you can pretty much go entirely without a desktop & a laptop - Always depending on your needs

PhilM
PhilM

Anyone mention size of screen for ease of use?

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

I still need to see a mobile application that can do an Excel Pivot Table. Does anyone know of such?

ian3880
ian3880

A whole lot of sensible and informative comments without Mac or PC or Droid trolls ruining it (so far). Is that a record? :-)

Dreigo42
Dreigo42

I have seen so many people try to do exactly this and after $2-3K on devices they still end up coming to me to ask to use my desktop, that's right, desktop computer. These devices are great for what they are, just don't try to make them what they're not.

mike five
mike five

My imagination just committed suicide trying to envision running a CADD program on a smartphone!

gevander
gevander

But the intent is the same. My only phone has been my mobile phone for 7 years.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

I tried to run TurboCAD on my Droid smart phone, but it didn't work too well. Seriously, though, I do a fair amount of CAD and other graphics work, which are completely impossible on a netbook, tablet or what have you. I really like having portable tools, but sometimes you have to get back into the shop and get the big stuff out. Going all mobile is probably a good idea for some folks, but I gotta have my big clunky PC.

DugaldSt
DugaldSt

My three things list of Achilles heels are lack of storage memory, connectivity (library, backup, printers and good cameras) and decent browsers (poor mobile browsers and incompatibility with all the sites in my favorites). In fact the smart-phones and tablets are designed to go with a home base computer for all these and more functions. We are collecting our lives in electronic form. I can't imagine using 4G or LTE and the Cloud for all this - the cost alone ... !! WiFi and a real computer plus backup is the only sensible route, for now anyway.

mrcerny
mrcerny

This is the first article or list that I have seen that covers most of the points as to why I believe the tablet & smart phone will not replace the portable or the desktop in the near future. They are good tools to use in the IT mix, but they are not yet the one tool that does it all. If there ever will be one!

mattohare
mattohare

It does seem that one person will see that another has gone to all hand-held devices and think they can do the same. Or, a boss/industry leader did it and thinks all others can do the same. I think the smart idea is to keep the notebook or desktop for a while before moving over completely.

mike five
mike five

My imagination just committed suicide trying to envision running a CADD program on a smartphone.

franciscus.maas
franciscus.maas

I note that a number of things are mentioned as achilles heels of tablets (and also mobile phones) though one obvious one keeps on getting overlooked: powering them! It seems that with the increased sophistication of the plethora of modern mobile equipment rechargeable battery development hasn't kept pace and hence the time that these devices can run before they have be recharged has decreased. For example my low-end 2G mobile phone with a small battery has a stand-by time of about two weeks (even after 2-years use), whereas with my new Android smart phone with a much larger battery (even with WiFi, 3G and data turned off most of the time) I'd be lucky to get one week. It's all very well having all these mobile devices, but they won't work once the batteries run out.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

There actually are a few CADD apps for tablets, but they're more like making sketches in the field and then taking them back to the shop to make the real drawings. Some will work (sort of) on a smartphone. Off Thread: Let's get rid of the the term "smartphone." It's much more than a phone. We have desktop computers, laptop computers, tablet computers -- these should be belt-clip computers..

Justin James
Justin James

The battery time of mobile devices like tablets and smartphones is still much better than laptops. :( J.Ja

mattohare
mattohare

I still feel uncomfortable with this one-size-fits-all approach forcing a small size on all uses. I guess it's time for me to start using some of the metro interface trials to see if it will fit.