Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can you or I do real work on a mobile device?

The title to this post is a serious question and not just rhetorical. Can we do serious work on a mobile device or are we doomed to trivia and tweets? Part of the answer depends, of course, on the definition of mobile device. To some extent, the answer also depends on the development of realistic input devices for the mobile world of electronics. For example, is the current configuration of a "laptop" computer considered a mobile device?

One point that is non-negotiable is the fact that I will not voluntarily give up working on my 27" screen, which cannot, by any definition, be considered portable. I may go larger, but I will not go smaller. Mobile technology would have to change extraordinarily to get past that issue. So from my standpoint, all the development in the world will not replace some sort-of desktop computer with a keyboard that is full size and comfortable to type on.

There is no question, if you read the news, that "mobile is one of technology's hottest trends." See "Yahoo's ad prices, international income rise to propel 4th-quarter earnings above Street view." But does this mean that we will all be doing our real work on mobile devices?

It is true that mobile devices have become ubiquitous. I was at a meeting recently where the average age of the attendees was likely well above 50 years old and the number of tablet and iPads in evidence had dramatically increased over past such meetings. It is true that I use my iPhone and iPad extensively where just a few short years ago, that would not have been the case or even possible. But I don't see that my increase in use of a mobile device or two or three has cut into my time on my main computer. The key here is my question above concerning including laptop type devices in the definition of mobile. Because of travel, which is becoming regular with me, I use my MacBook Pro more than I have in the past. But it has a full-size keyboard and a 15"+ screen. There are some things I choose not to do on my laptop, such as editing any quantity of photographs, but I can get my writing and other things done.

As for the other devices, I really don't like typing messages into my iPhone. I have a really hard time getting my fingers to hit the tiny little virtual keys on the screen, so texting for me is entirely out of the question. Any message of more than a few words drives me either to the telephone or to my desktop. I cannot imagine composing a blog post on a smartphone. But if you think of all the tasks you do online, there are a fair percentage of them that can be transferred to mobile. For example, email is as easily read on my iPhone as on my computer. But some tasks are nearly impossible for me to do on either an iPad or an iPhone.

Genealogy is data entry intensive and although many of the commercial database programs have apps for both my iPhone and my iPad, it turns out I use them more for reference than for data entry. The real issue at this point has to do a keyboard and a mouse. I am currently transitioning from using a mouse to almost entirely using a track pad, both for my mobile devices and for my desktop computer, an iMac. I find the trackpads to be improved to the point where I have just as much or more control than the mouse and less stress on my arm and wrist. It is not, however, an easy transition. Had I not been forced to use the trackpad on the MacBook Pro for enough time to learn how to use it effectively, I would not have made the transition. I am not sure how I am going to accept touch screens on non-mobile computers either.

Since the keyboard is the main issue with mobile devices, I have tried a few portable keyboards for tablets and iPads but found most of them (all of them?) unacceptable.  This brings up another issue entirely, if you are going to lug around a keyboard for your tablet computer, why not just get a laptop? The newer laptops are shrinking in width dramatically. I am looking at my old laptop with my newer Toshiba sitting on top of it. The new laptop is much less than half as thick and thereby much lighter than the older model HP. The latest thing in laptop computers are called "ultrabooks." The trend was really started with Apple's MacBook Air and has now started affecting all of the laptop designs. I got to work for a while on a MacBook Air recently and the issue there is connectors. However, that issue is rapidly going away with WiFi, Bluetooth and adapters. My next laptop may be a MacBook Air or whatever is the equivalent when I am getting ready to migrate again.

So, to summarize. Mobile devices are great unless you type incessantly as I do. Then you need a keyboard. If I am going to purchase and use a keyboard for my tablet computer (i.e. iPad) then why not use a light weight laptop? OK so we go around and around with that one. 

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