Mobile is Mobile

In the past, I’ve instinctively associated “mobile” with “phone”, as in something that has cellular voice as a primary function. But most of the world has, apparently, decided to include tablets (but, curiously, not laptops) in this definition.

I did an informal poll on Twitter. I asked:

The vast majority of respondents said “Yes”.

I don’t much care either way, I just want to be consistent. Therefore, based on this little poll:

From here on out, if I use the term “mobile” I mean a user, business, or developer scenario where the primary device is not tethered to mains power.

Thus a scenario involving a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a netbook, an computer embedded in the dashboard of a car, a connected camera, or a device like a Fitbit is “mobile”.

Of course, this means we can also imply “Mobile” is everything but desktop computing, data-centers, cloud, and television.

(For the record, I’m making this statement because I’m working on a set of posts where I don’t want to have to argue about this. I figure if I write a post that defines what I mean I can just reference it).

Update:  More here



  1. MarcSilverTriple says:

    Well, thinking about it, not sure it is that easy: some of those devices are less mobile than others. I can imagine using a laptop at starbucks or in a train, but others situations (such as on the go, walking, standing in a metro, …) are generally a no go for laptop usage…

  2. Walt French says:

    Your blog: use words as you see fit.

    But when I fly, it matters not whether I got a power outlet at my seat or not; I use my laptop in a very different way than I would an iPad. When my seatmate watches a movie on her iPad, and I on my laptop, we’re both mobile/2000, not mobile/2012.

    I think that today, the differentiator is that “mobile” devices have near-zero latency to enter or exit a function, appropriate to the lower interaction with any one function.

    If I want to know the weather forecast while I’m dressing, Siri will answer me in a second or two, whether she’s on the charger cable or not. But it’s a very different experience than opening up the laptop, open a new browser window while waiting a few seconds for it to connect to my wifi, then typing in and looking for the result.

    1. Assume, for a second, @WaltFrench:disqus, that MacOS continues to become more iOS like and Win8 lives up to it’s promise of ‘no compromises”. Then, don’t devices that have a clamshell with a keyboard start to blur the line you have drawn?

      1. Walt French says:

        Per Wikipedia, Charles Darwin first noted the opposition of “lumpers and splitters.” (That’s been reduced to the joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who think there are not.)

        There will always be tensions when you define boundaries so the question is how the distinction is more helpful than the problems with the gray areas.

        The iPad-using seatmate in my example had a Logitech keyboard on her iPad; I mistook it for a netbook at first glance. That reinforces your observation that the two forms can overlap in my definition. But that’s the problem of talking about mobile devices rather than mobile experiences. I’d think you among the most able to recognize that there are huge categories of new applications that are inherently mobile (e.g., augmented reality) and that mobile applications have to feature an entirely different set of attributes even as they nominally tackle the same problem (e.g., email).

        Maybe the distinction best made as to whether the definitive use case is on a device with a cord, or not.

        PS: care for a friendly wager about whether Microsoft actually succeeds with “no compromises”? Sure looks to me that it’s really, “one size fits all!” whether it’s Redmond or Mountain View propounding the view.

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