The Perfect Mobile Device Doesn’t Exist

Mobile technology has advanced at a breakneck pace the past few years. We’ve seen the rise of the notebook, the launch of the netbook and the mass adoption of the smartphone. There have been many handheld devices that put a full computer in the palm of the hand. Smartphones are powerful computers in their own right. All of these advances have fueled the search for the perfect mobile device. The appearance of the iPad (s aapl) led many to proclaim the perfect mobile device had finally arrived. Guess what? There is no perfect mobile device, and there never will be.
That’s a pretty harsh statement, but I believe an accurate one. Mobile technology is by nature a very personal thing. When something is personal by design, it becomes different things to different people. That’s the very nature of something personal. What is revolutionary to one person may be simply evolutionary, or even a step backwards, to another. What works for some won’t necessarily work for others.
I have covered handheld devices for a long time, and this coverage often produces strong reactions to those exposed to it. It is common to see knee-jerk reactions to articles about a given gadget along the lines of “why would you use that for task X?”. These reactions are typical given the personal nature of the technology. A particular gadget may be the best solution for some, but fall short for others. There are so many factors in determining how useful a gadget might be for an individual, and it’s the total package that makes or breaks the utility a single device can bring to each of us.
The appearance of the iPad has evoked emotional reactions from many along these lines. Almost every article you see written about using the iPad for a particular task is met with strong reactions from readers. Those reactions are often along the line of “why not use gadget Y for that task, as it’s better than the iPad.” This is a good response, as the iPad is not the best tool for many tasks compared to other types of devices.
I have seen the same reaction to almost every mobile gadget I’ve written about, and the fact is there are many factors to consider. If the goal is simply to use the best device for every single task that might be undertaken, then we should all use the most powerful notebook computer we can find. That would certainly be the best tool for any job. But these are often expensive, and not very easy to carry around.
There are many factors in play with mobile devices that determine the utility each provides to the individual. Portability is a big factor; while a 19-inch powerful notebook would be the best tool for any given task, it’s certainly not easy to carry around in a mobile scenario. Price is a big consideration too — that’s why netbooks have been well received. We don’t all have thousands to drop on a single tool, and often affordability is a determinant of adoption.
For others battery life plays a significant role in whether a particular gadget is a good fit or not. The individual’s work needs are the drivers that tell if a given device (or device form factor) is a proper fit. That giant notebook would certainly fail in this area.
What, then, is the best tool for a given job? The tool that is with you when you need to do the task. That’s the simple truth when it comes to mobile technology. It doesn’t matter if that big, powerful laptop will tackle any job at hand if it’s too big to carry everywhere. The same applies to many mobile gadgets. If they are too difficult to bring along, they can’t provide much benefit.
By the same token, it’s not a good plan to force compromise in our work by solely adopting a mobile device that is too restricted. The argument that gadget X is a better fit for a given task is often a good one. If a certain type of device better serves the tasks most commonly undertaken, then that’s the type to use. But that doesn’t mean that other types of devices aren’t useful for others. Mobile technology requires we keep an open mind, as everyone’s needs are different. It’s that personal thing again.
It is important to understand when a certain type of device, iPad or other, can do a certain task in a pinch. While other gadgets will be better at performing the task, if the “compromised” device is at hand, then that’s the better tool. When I write about using gadgets, the goal is to point out what can and cannot be done with them. It’s not to state that everyone should adopt this particular gadget — it’s to point out how the device can be used if needed. I think that is useful information.
Related content on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):
Hot Topic: Appleā€™s iPad