Mobile device strategy: A reflection on what I use to succeed

Mobile strategy, and the tools to implement it, are highly personal. Here's what I do to make my constantly mobile life work.

Mobile strategy, and the tools to implement it, are highly personal. Here's what I do to make my constantly mobile life work.

I am frequently asked, in emails and at conferences and other events, what my personal mobile solution set comprises. I'm always happy to talk about my latest collection of gadgets and techniques, but always with two provisos. First, my toolset is constantly evolving. I like to try new products and services, and -- time permitting -- I like to push them a little bit beyond their typical use. And second, what works for me probably won't work for you, because mobility solutions need to be personalized. One size, in this case, most certainly does not fit all. And while complexity is always the enemy of productivity on the go (who was it that said if something can go wrong, it will?), today's mobile computing and communications products always seem to leave a bit of final assembly to the user – so be prepared to be a little bit (at least) of a systems integrator, no matter what route you choose. And a brief disclaimer: Farpoint Group pays for everything we use in production, so -- like you -- we have our money on the line here. And I want to be treated like any other customer.

But, with the above as cautionary notes, here's the current state of my mobile arsenal. Starting with my notebook, I'm currently using a Dell Inspiron 710M (recently replaced in Dell's lineup by the XPS 1210) when I travel. This replaced my trusty IBM X40, which in turn replaced an X20 that I got back in 2000. I remember spending about $3,000 on the X20, and it was worth every penny just to eliminate some weight from my computer bag. That's traditionally been my No. 1 criterion in notebooks -- small and light. I even once used a Mitsubishi Amity CN, which is best described as a mini-notebook -- larger than today's micro-notebooks (see my column on form factors for mobile computers) but a lot smaller than today's notebooks of any other form.

Well, when it came time to replace the X40, which was getting a bit long in the tooth from a processor perspective, I decided that a built-in DVD drive would be useful, since I often ended up carrying the "slice" base for the X40, which holds its DVD drive. The Dell is an excellent compromise in terms of a 12.1-inch ultra-portable form factor and price, and it also runs XP Pro -- we have no plans to "upgrade" to Vista anytime soon and may skip it altogether.

With respect to cell phones, I use both an LG VX5300 as well as a silver Motorola Q Why two production phones? Well, it's because of what I call the Single-Device Paradox. It seems at this point that we should be able to build a single mobile device that can do it all -- voice, data, camera, Web, games and so on, but every mobile device is of necessity a compromise in price, form factor, operating environment, size, weight and more. So I use the LG as my primary take-everywhere phone, and I subscribe to Verizon's Mobile Web 2.0 for use when I don't have the Q. But the Q is my primary Internet/Web vehicle, and I really like the screen and form factor. I'm not crazy about Microsoft's browser, but maybe the iPhone will give MS the incentive to build a better browser. The browser is important because I use the Q only as a thin client -- no personal data is stored on the device. This includes email; I use Yahoo Mobile for almost everything I do while mobile. I have both phones on a Verizon Family SharePlan, but I do wish they would unify voicemail for those of us with multiple devices and, for that matter, with their landline voicemail service as well.

I also sometimes travel with a Nokia 770 (recently replaced by the slicker but mostly-the-same N800 [http://www.nokiausa.com/n800]), which is a mini-tablet that runs LINUX and functions mostly as a mobile Web browser. Being a Web services guy, I find that this device really works for me, but it would work a lot better if it supported Java. And by now you're probably asking how I manage all of these devices. That's another problem with no good solution at present. I treat my arsenal a bit like a hobby to lessen the pain. In production, though, it's tough.

For remote access, I've been using Route1. This is a hosted VPN service that allows highly secure access (4096-bit root certificates, with 1024-bit session keys) and two-factor authentication via a USB key. I can gain access from any PC (but unfortunately not the phones -- no place to plug in the key), so I don't always have to carry my notebook. The only problem is that Route1 offers only remote terminal access (it's basically a highly authenticated and encrypted Microsoft Remote Desktop service) and lacks file transfer. This is becoming a problem because the only way to get a file is to access the remote server and then email the file from that machine – clunky at best. I'm shortly going to be evaluating both GoToMyPC and Laplink Everywhere, but I'm sure the lack of two-factor authentication will be a problem with these.

Ultimately, my goal is to be able to do anything I'd do in the office from anywhere in the world, and to accomplish this with the lowest possible number of devices, tools and software products. Because of the issues I've noted above, I'm on a constant quest for a better solution set and something tells me I will be for some time to come.

About the author: Craig Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass., specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing. The firm works with manufacturers, enterprises, carriers, government, and the financial community on all aspects of wireless and mobile. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.

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