Mobile devices hit Trevor's spot
A 10in form factor is just right
Sysadmin blog I have spent the past month using Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) as often as possible in my role as a systems administrator. I have worked on my Blackberry 8350i, my HTC Desire and an iPad, using native apps as well as working within a remote environment, to perform tasks ranging from writing articles to managing servers. Using RDP, VNC and Teamviewer I have worked with MS Office apps, dealt with point-of-sales software and various forms of middleware, and configured entire fleets of servers using VSphere SSH and Webmin.
On the network side, I was astonished at how much I could get done over 2G. It seems even Edge can deliver just about usable connectivity for remote desktop work. 3G connectivity was fantastic. Where I could get an EV-DO or HSDPA connection, the remote desktop response was snappy and completely workable.
Working over Wi-Fi oddly proved to be a far more frustrating experience than using 3G. While Wi-Fi is certainly faster, 3G is dedicated spectrum. In pretty much all of western Canada at least, if you have a 3G link then it won’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin. Wi-Fi on the other hand is overcrowded to the point of worthlessness in our cities. There are too many people with cordless phones that wreak havoc on the 2.4GHz spectrum everywhere within a 1,200m radius.
At first, I thought my Blackberry 8350i was simply too slow to handle most of the things I was throwing at it, but a simple switch to Wi-Fi proved me wrong. This Blackberry model is fairly old and compared with my Desire it is fantastically underpowered. Despite this, it still has enough oomph when using Wi-Fi to get the job done, although the screen is too small and the trackball too clumsy for browsing the web or remotely acccessing a PC. If, however, you are seeking a device largely for text-input, this is still the next best thing to a real computer.
As for the HTC Desire, I love it. Its primary purpose has been as an MID and it has been brilliant using Wyse’s PocketCloud application. In essence it is an RDP, VNC and VMWare View client and so good that it has to be used to be believed. There is a neat little touch pointer doohickey which entails a bit of a learning curve, but once you master it your tiny little smartphone becomes a functional window into your normal work environment.
While I managed to get a surprising amount done on this device, using it for text input for any length of time was frustrating. Any more than 600 words and my manual dexterity starts to be worn down by the constrained keyboard. The lack of integrated spell check in most applications has also been a drawback. But as a smartphone app platform as well as a touch-tablet RDP interface to my VM it has served me well. I can now honestly say that I can get all of my critical work done using nothing more than my Desire.
The iPad isn’t the ideal device for me, but it is close. The form factor of ten inches is just the right size. A few weeks of using the iPad have convinced me that a ten-inch Android pad will be fantastic. The first one to happen along with a 1,333x768 or better screen is one I will snap up to replace my next planned laptop refresh.
I can’t tell you which MID will be right for you, as each person will have different requirements, but what I can tell you is that while a good laptop will still be more efficient at virtually every task, MIDs have quietly become “good enough”. It’s time to get ready for this new category of devices. If they aren’t already, MIDs are going to be staples of most corporate environments. ®
I can highly recommend Swype for text input on a Desire, if you can get yourself on the beta. It speeded things up no end for me.
I'm sure the iPad is great for these type of tasks, but (for me at least) once you're up to nearly the size, weight and price of a netbook, it doesn't offer any real advantages. If I have a device that won't fit in my pocket anyway, I'd much rather it had a keyboard on it.
My ideal (and non-existent) device? The one I've been waiting for largely my entire life? Interestingly I can describe that to you.
It would be an 8.5x11 tablet (sheet of standard paper here in Canada.) It would fit inside a standard foleo and be a touch-based input device not dissimilar from an iPad. It would have at least 1366x768 resolution, though I would far prefer 1440x900. It would have reasonable internal storage: flash somewhere north of 8GB for applications with 1GB of RAM. It would have a Wacom digitizer in addition to the touch interface and an operating system that didn’t suck horribly at touch input. (In other words not Windows.)
It would run at least a dual core CPU and come with all the standard phone options. Data from cellular and wifi, GPS, and a plethora of sensors from accelerometers and magnetics to luminance and acoustics. It would allow removable storage via SD card and come with two USB ports. It would be open, allowing me to install whatever applications I wanted and direct access to the file system. There would be an app store for ease of purchasing new applications as well as access to a cloud-storage/synchronisation system that automatically backed up my system to a server of /my choice/ without my having to bother with it.
A lot of thought would go into the design of the case it was in. I want that thing to be able to support this foleo-pad in a number of different configurations at many angles whilst still carrying in the other flap a pad of real, regular paper. When set up at an angle, I want a laser-painted keyboard to be available to me*. I want to be able to use a Bluetooth headset in combination with it and have it serve as my phone. (One less device to carry that way.)
In essence; I want a totally open smartphone/ipad that fits into my briefcase, weighs as little as is humanly possible but has none of the restrictions of the existing gear. It is /my/ device, allows me to add peripherals if I choose, remove media, control my own files and generally bridged the gap between “locked down smartphone” and “full blown laptop.”
I don’t need to replace a full-on computer with it. I don’t even want to. I just want it to be the device to serve as my access to a) a browser b) an RDP window c) all of my cloud-synchronised data. It’s job would be to fill the gaps between when I have a real computer available, not to completely replace a real computer with a real keyboard.
But with USB ports…why couldn’t it have a docking station at home such that I could just hook up a real keyboard? With a fully open device, there would be so many possibilities.
Either way, as far as I am concerned, the era of requiring Windows on the physical device is over. It’s into the VM with that thing and all it’s attendant applications as well. With it goes the need for a lot of the “beef” I used to need on my endpoints. They can really now just be thin clients of various shapes and sizes from any vendor. I know VDI isn’t exactly “cloud computing.” (Or is it? Someone give me a definition, please!) Still, more and more I am designing my digital life around the concept of “my information is available to me anywhere from any device.” This takes “who makes the device” or even “what form factor the device is” completely out of the equation.
If the device comes with a standards compliant browser and the ability to RDP then what makes me choose a device no longer has anything to do with the OS or vendor. Capability/speed, power consumption/battery life, ease of use, connectivity, openness/freedom of me to control my own device, price/rate plan and design/form factor matter.
I have a quad core PC at home with a stupidly powerful graphics card. Velociraptors and Windows 7. Shiny shiny in all colours of the rainbow…and I haven’t turned it on in three months. I have two laptops and a netbook. I use one laptop – very occasionally - because it got migrated to the living room table and sort of never left. The netbook is somewhere in my car. Gods only know what happened to the other laptop.
My Desire has become my primary personal computing device – a remarkable statement for a sysadmin. At work, I use a puny C90LEW Wyse thin client.
Give me an iPad or a decent Android pad and I can pretty much be guaranteed that my laptop at home goes unused as well. Heck, as I type this, it is into an OOo Writer application inside my personal VM located on my home server. I am RDPed into that personal VM from within my work VM. I am RDPed into my work VM from my Desire.
So…ideal device? Apart from the specs I mentioned above it really boils down to one question:
What’s the most convenient device? Because that’s really the bit that matters.
*(http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/keyboards-mice/8193/ for a primitive example.)
Traditionally, Laptops weight a lot. They also tend to be terribly to use while standing or in any way not being in front of a desk. On a bus for example. Or sitting in a doctor's office. Or pulling out to show a bunch of friends a funny YouTube by the water cooler. The closest hybrid devices so far are the Fijitsu P1510d/P1610d and the OQO. Their screens are too small however and the battery life too poor.
The iPad lasts for bloody ages, has a decent screen and is really only held back by the fact that Apple’s OCD means your device can’t actually /do/ all that much. Now, try to use a laptop in all of these circumstances, and the only pace where it proves superior is the “sitting at a desk.” Everywhere else, I’d be wanting a not-fail iPad.