the wisdom of mobile computing when you are not


For a person who does not actually move about that much, I have a very strong tendency towards mobile devices. In my daily work setup I use laptops exclusively, currently one MacBook and one Vista lifebook. With a home/workplace commute of about 3m daily, this hardly seems appropriiate, does it? Well there are several reasons why I still strongly favour laptops and mobile computing in general, and I'd like to lay out some of the reasoning behind it.

Is is pure nerdiness?

Yeah, I was musing on this myself... see, in the beginning there is a simply tendecy to favour laptops. I've always wanted them, ever since I was into computing and jnew about mobile options. MAybe it's the "light is good" mindset that prevails my thinking. I was never into super stomper powerful monster truck engineering, rather sailplane, muscle powerd high efficiency style things.

Micro Mobility

A far more convincing explanation for my mobile preference though is the freedom of movement that it gives me. This is more a psycologigal freedom than a physical one. I can move my workplace, rearange it whereever it's convenient. I can set up ad hoc desktops by placing two laptops side by side, or I can pick up my prevered media laptop, move to the couch and watch a movie. It's all about (psycological) context here: have you ever watched a romantic movie or an action thriller on your office workspace PC with your girlfriend and some chips? With mobile computers, the same machine can serve different usage profiles simply by moving it into another environment. And that movement can well be minimal in terms of space... but very profound in terms of emotional impact. Stepping away from the desk, switching from work to play can be achieved in little space.

Now obviously I could just as well setup dedicated machines for each environment - as we all used to do with the dedicated devices like TV, PC, radio etc. But let's be frank... do you enjoy configuring a new computer so that it can access all your files, setting up a central media server etc? Or would you rather have one personal devoce that could cover all your needs? With the mobility limitations of traditional desktop computing the dedicated route is the natural one to follow, but with laptops and even more mobile devices like an iPhone etc... you come to the point where you want to have "all your stuff" accessible.

More stuff I enjoy about laptops

Micro Mobility Extremis

There recent addition of an iPod Touch 2G to my stable of daily used devices is a case in point. No cables (TM). I was using my MacBook with iCal and iTunes as an alarm clock to wake me when I did have a fixed shedule... but believe it or not sleeping in the same room as a running MacBook can be an issue. Now a MacBook is one of the quietest computers I've ever owned... yet still I can hear it's fan and HD if everything is quiet. And I must admit I'm a silence addict :) esp when I want to sleep.

enter the iPod touch 2G. This thing makes no sound whatsoever, there are zero moving parts on it. Solid stae disk, no fans, nothing. It's quite convenient to plop it down on the bed beside you and set it's alarm clock to wake you. The addition of it being a perfect audio book player, eBook reader etc PLUS a way to look things up on the web, write emails, play games... yeah you get it.


I must note here that the ipod is by far not the first totally mobile device I owned . and still own. There is the Psion 5, which would be a nice notepad and scribble sketch book, if only it had better connectivity! And then the is the Newton... yes, I own one, it's a MessagePad 130, and I've played with it quite a bit. As a sketchpad and notetaker it seems to be ideal, yet again there is the connectivity issue! The fact that both devices are basically b/w (grayscale) is not really an issue here, also not that they don't do audio/video. If I found a convenient way to tranfer sketches/notes from either to my other machines, both would be used far more.

So yeah

This has been a rather lengthy post already, basically rambling out my thought on this. In summary I'd say this:

Mobile Computing matters even if you are not mobile. "Mobile" is NOT only travel, but also micro mobility. Even if you are basically allways at one place, mobile devoces make a difference.

Obviously things like GPS geolocation and EDGE/UMTS/3G are of far less importance - as long as you have WiFi.


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Martin Spernau
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