Could You Work on a Mobile Phone?

argh[Flickr credit: Coyotejack.] Around late 2006, there was a report that the number of mobile phones had outstripped landlines in North America – a pattern headed for duplication elsewhere in the world. Then the iPhone, a revolutionary communication device, appeared and those lucky Americans that got one probably rejoiced. The iPhone offers true mobile browser access in a handy package – reportedly with an expensive two-year overall contract cost.

But what about the rest of us? There isn’t another phone that comes close to the size of the iPhone and simultaneously offers true mobile browsing. If there is, after a year of looking, I haven’t found it. (The iPhone still hasn’t come to Canada.) Well okay, there’s the CECT T5 T32 iPhone clone [via RedFerret], though I’m talking about something official, from a known phone manufacturer. (If I’m going to spend over $200 on a phone, it’d better be something I can rely on.)

Here are a few questions for you. Even if you could afford the overall expense of an iPhone – which according to numerous bloggers is pretty high for a two-year contract – would you actually want to do your web work on it? What about one of those UMPC (Ultra-mobile PC) style of “laptop” computers? Do you find these handy? For those of you with iPhones, how do you use them? For browsing or actual work? If you work on your iPhones, how long do you spend at any given time?

If you’ve ever worked for several hours consecutively on a laptop with a touchpad instead of a mouse, you know how much your fingers or hand aches afterwards. Back in 2005, when I first started blogging regularly, I used a large laptop with touchpad, spending 4-8 hours on any given day. Hand cramps were a regular experience. The word ergonomic certainly doesn’t apply to touchpads.

With the iPhone there aren’t even any physical buttons. Could you fathom having to work for long hours on an iPhone or something similar – or worse yet, something smaller? (Especially with no physical buttons or toggles – only touch-sensitive screens?)

Probably not, right? Well software manufacturers must think some of us intend to actually work on small mobile devices, not just browse. I’m assuming this based on the increasing number of complex software apps that are showing up on small screens – for example, video editing. Seriously? Do they think we’ll come around after we try it?

Of course, there’ll always be some hardcore geek that thinks this sort of thing is fantastic  – until eyestrain sets in. For the rest of us, it’s unlikely that we could comfortably work for extended periods on the smaller mobile devices. At least, no amount of cool app for small mobile devices is going to entice me.

Consider an alternative: An affordable heads-up display (HUD) goggles (aka HMD – head-mounted display) and wearable devices to support true ultra-mobile computing. Some of these goggles have virtual screens equivalent to viewing a 60-inch monitor, maybe larger, and they’re projected in front of your retina – supposedly safely – while allowing you to still take in your surroundings. (Think of the helmet displays that Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark has in the Iron Man movie. Except without the clunky helmet.)

Provided that the data input devices are comfortable to use and compact (possibly digital pens with virtual interaction, or gaming-style toggles), then you’ve got me salivating. Instead of the older “brick” style of computer that you’d drop into a large pocket, you might be able to power such a mobile “workstation” with the next generation version of the iPhone. So what if it all looks geeky if it’s comfortable and works well?

What about you? Am I full of it? Could you work on a small mobile device such as the iPhone? Or would you rather have an HUD/ HMD setup possibly driven by a more powerful version of the iPhone?

16 thoughts on “Could You Work on a Mobile Phone?

  1. mobile phones are just too small for that kind of job. It is very hard even you just want to write a proper email on mobile phone. The device is too small for that.

  2. Raj,
    No way. It may be possible to remote into a desktop and do it remotely, but I wouldn’t want to OR even think about giving my customer the thought it were possible. That isn’t the kind of work I do.

    4″ screens are limiting in that way, even if software to perform the tasks were usable.

    I suspect there aren’t any PDA or even microPC sized solutions that would make video or image editing useful. However, any system that can leverage Google-Apps over the web could be workable in an emergency for XLS, PPT, and DOC needs. I’ve not tried them on the N800, still I’m on vacation. Javascript and flash are well supported however. Heck, even youtube works well.

    There will always be trade offs with truly mobile solutions due to form factor, if not some other technical reason.

  3. jdpfu: Wow, that’s amazing. Now, if you actually had to do client work that includes diagramming, image editing or video editing, do you think you could have done so on your mobile setup?

  4. I forgot to mention that I was concerned about power and weight requirements. Mobile does imply you will be moving. Here’s the type of problem I was trying to solve.

    1. Need multiple day power – no charging
    2. Need under 2lbs of total weight for computer.
    3. Got up at 5am, caught a flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, Argentina. Packed with just a large day pack that holds everything for this trip. No checked luggage
    4. Arrive IGR at 10am, catch a van to the town
    5. Take a bus to the National Park, hike and take photos all day long
    6. By 4pm, I’m beat and want a shower-bus back to town, then hike to my hotel
    7. Check-in, shower, drink a US$6 bottle of hotel water
    8. Go to the hotel lobby to use the free wifi; check email, weather, and a few key websites
    9. Pull all the photos from the camera to the N800, over 200 of them today
    10. Pick the best 10 photos and upload them using rsync to my server
    11. While the rsync is happening, type up my daily blog entry
    12. At 7p, catch the bus back to the falls for a moonlight tour and dinner (they eat dinner around 11pm daily there
    13. Take 20 more photos – the dark didn’t help at all
    14. Bus back to the hotel – get there around midnight
    15. Get up the next morning and visit the town, snapping photos (camera charged overnight
    16. Take a taxi to the airport around noon
    17. Flight back to Buenos Aires

    A full day of camera use and the N800 allowed photo uploads and web-based blogging.

    The N800 is lite and can easily go for 3 days on a single charge, longer if you power it down when not in use. According to the specs, it has 9 days of standby time with the power on. I know it goes at least 5 days. I make it around 2 days with bluetooth keyboard and wifi connections active, but honestly haven’t tested extensively. I haven’t been to the ends of the Earth, but I have been a few steps away and really appreciated my N800. Heck, the Maemo-Mapping software on it rocks – even when disconnected! Oh, and it will play most video formats and audio formats nicely, while still being a real Linux computer – with a slightly limited GUI. From a shell interface, it feels just like a unix server. It does support VNC, but I’ve never tried using that. Just not my need with web interfaces available. It does have a full IMAP email client and Skype. Skype rocks.

    If power isn’t a major problem and you want a little more of a mobile laptop, consider an Asus Eee so you can RDP or VNC back to your main PC, wherever that is. If, on the other hand, you NEED MS-Windows to run software locally, it sucks to be you. Buy a Dell or IBM or Toshiba laptop and be done with it. Lug that 4+ lbs around and be happy, knowing that someone else has less than 1 lb as their computer.

  5. I don’t know if this will work for others, but I’ve been on vacation travelling for the last 6 months – no PC, just my Nokia N800 Internet Tablet and a camera. Over this time, I’ve uploaded 2,000+ photos and written a daily blog of my adventures. Hong Kong, costa Rice, and Argentina were the main locales.


    1. Nokia N800 (Linux-based internet browser US$220)
    2. iGo Bluetooth Keyboard (US$35)
    3. SONY Digital Camera (I’d use an SD-based camera next time)
    4. Cable to connect the camera to mini-USB port on the N800
    5. Host-mode software on the N800
    6. WiFi or Cell data plan (free or already included depending on location)

    For more information, just google on my name and you’ll find lots of things written on the pros/cons for the N800 and my Sony camera.

  6. Hi,

    I use my HTC Touch Diamond for blogging at times. It has got full-browsing and is better than the Iphone in most regards. Also the Iphone currently isn’t even 3G capable so one can’t derive any gratification working on it, although I am awaiting an Iphone update and more than that its eventual launch in India. Anyways, I don’t think cellphones make a decent work platform. It is only while traveling or during times when a computer is unavailable that I am left with no choice. But it is really exasperating and ponderous.

  7. Markus: I’ve read that some newer digital cameras can upload to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection, or in some cases via Bluetooth to your cell phone.

  8. I would love to do more mobile blogging.
    I would love my camera to be XML-RPC capable (+ a foldable keyboard .
    I would love to shoot more information snippets to the blog while on the road.

    I would love to have all he devices

    And Yes, I have plenty ideas how to use mobile blogging for monetization.
    Motto: Give me ten bucks cash and your news is online in five minutes.

  9. Veiko: I don’t have mobile access anymore b/c rate plans are ridiculous in Canada, so I can’t test your software. So how easy is it to use your app? The point I’m making is that I find even browsing on the typical cell phone to be eyestrain-causing. I can’t imagine actually wanting to have a mobile HTML editor – not even with a portable keyboard, which defeats the purpose of a mobile device. If you need a portable keyboard for your phone, I’m not sure you’re really getting a useful device. I’d be more inclined to carry a laptop with a cellular-based data card (PCMCIA or USB). The rate plans for these are often better than for cell phones, despite using the same network (I think).

  10. I was finally able to finish my project which allows to publish content directly from mobile device for other mobile users to view. The content can be Rich Text, Bitmap or SVG images and animations. The main issue was, that I wanted to get paid for my content (SVG animations) Pay per View basis and as there wasn’t any suitable software platforms to use, I had a need to write it myself.
    Currently I’m seeking partners from professional bloggers to get better payout rates and develop the software platform further.
    Developing a integrated HTML editor as mobile application could be more convinient to use than my current Javascript HTML generation buttons and for £600 per month I could get Bango mobile billing professional account where the publisher could just setup the page price. Currently it’s inconvinient as you need to have payable content ID before you publish the content and you need to setup the redirection afterwards.
    You can check it out by typing in you mobile phone browser.
    You are welcome to contribute to that community and I will pay out everything your post will earn, or if you wan’t to run your own community, please let me know.


  11. That headset setup is totally pimp… Now to get something like that to work with my computer…


  12. Barbara: You might feel like a Borg for a while, but I’m thinking this would be very useful.

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