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Connectivity Will Always Be the Weak Link in Mobile Computing



img_0989You can have the greatest device on the planet, with the coolest apps around,   but if you don’t have reliable connectivity you’re essentially toting around a guessing game. As we see continued advances in devices and software solutions for those who live the mobile lifestyle, it becomes increasingly apparent that here in the US the weak link in the system is connectivity. And of course the mobile geek, software developers, and handset manufacturers are at the mercy of the carriers.

This past weekend, my wife and I decided to join her family on their annual summer retreat in York Beach, Maine, so that we could spend time with our nephews. Due to thunderstorms that danced up and down the east coast on Friday afternoon, our original flight got canceled. We weren’t surprised by that as we watched the weather. We also weren’t surprised by the horrendous way the airlines we were dealing with kept fumbling the ball when it came to dealing with re-arranging our tickets. I take that back. We weren’t surprised by fact that they kept goofing, we were surprised by how much and how stupidly they kept goofing. But that’s another blog post that I’ll put on my personal blog. You can see a short video of some of those woes, already posted there.

When I do travel I’ve been using Evernote to snap pictures of the parking section that I park in so I don’t forget where the car is when I return. I did this and that picture was syncing up to the Evernote cloud in the sky when something happened with the signal, apparently. I was using AT&T’s 3G at the time and according to the phone nothing changed regarding signal strength. (Check out the signal strength in the picture.) The syncing notification just kept saying that it was syncing but it was obvious that something was wrong as I watched the battery indicator keep dropping. So, I shut down the app and reopened it. Then I would get the error message you see in the picture. This persisted all weekend, no matter if I was on 3G or WiFi.

I discovered from the Evernote forums that the only way to rectify this was to uninstall the app and reinstall it, which I did this morning and all is good there. It is a clunky solution, but it worked. Is Evernote at fault here? I don’t believe so, beyond the fact that they should change the message from “Unknown Error” to “Your Carrier Just Screwed You.”

I had a similar experience trying to upload a short video to YouTube as well. The upload would start and progress and then choke off, while the signal strength indicators would not change. Intriguingly, trying it again later, in a location that reported a weaker signal, it successfully uploaded. Again, woeful inconsistency.

Here’s the rub. We’re seeing a number of mobile solutions that rely on data in the cloud which require a decent and consistent connection with which to access it. We are all used to looking at our signal strength and type, but unfortunately what is reported isn’t always the case, and often lags behind what is really going on. The carriers, the device makers, and the software developers want us connected and using their wares all the time (this is how they make money) but the carriers can’t   achieve enough integrity and consistency with their networks to be a reliable partner for the developers and hardware makers. At least here in the US. As we see more software and hardware innovation in the mobile sector that offer promises of making life easier and more fun in the 21st Century, the dirty little secret behind those promises is that the innovators are betting on an infrastructure that was creaky and full of holes back in the 20th. Sooner or later, as the rush to convert more and more consumers to mobile continues, the entire system is going to collapse, or perhaps worse yet, consumers will just give up.



  1. Sumocat

    08/03/2009 at 10:35 am

    I think you’re getting too fancy with the car tracking. I also use photos to note my car location, primarily in parking garages, but I just use the camera then delete the photos after they serve their purpose. Seems like overkill to keep that in Evernote.

  2. Warner Crocker

    08/03/2009 at 10:52 am

    I do delete them after the trip is over. Keeping them longer would be silly. But they do need to sync up once taken.

  3. Mark (K0LO)

    08/03/2009 at 10:58 am

    I’m not disagreeing at all about the current state of wireless connectivity. However, a small correction from an RF engineer – signal strength alone is not a good indicator of signal quality. To get reliable data transfer, the link quality must be adequate. Link quality consists not only of adequate signal strength but also of minimal interference, noise, multipath and other distortions, and adequate capacity on the network to accommodate all users trying to do data transfers simultaneously.

    Devices would give a better indication to the user if the “bar” indicators were proportional to quality, not just to signal strength.

  4. Xavier

    08/03/2009 at 11:01 am

    I completely agree with you- connectivity is the Acilles’ heel of all the great cloud services out there. When services aren’t accessible 100% of the time people lose faith in them and don’t use them to their full potential.

  5. Paul Harrigan

    08/03/2009 at 11:13 am


    I don’t think the connectivity problem is one of people not using them to their full potential after losing faith, I think it is a problem of their not having the advertised potential, in part because of limitations on connectivity.

    Cloud computing sounds good, but connectivity, security and the problems of changes in corporate strategy all contribute to it sounding better than it is, imo.

  6. GoodThings2Life

    08/03/2009 at 11:14 am

    This is why we still have hard drives and flash drives for local storage. Work now, sync later, I always say!


    08/03/2009 at 3:28 pm

  8. Xavier

    08/04/2009 at 10:15 pm

    I got a similar error when I went to go drop off a box at FedEx today. I was trying to look up my FedEx account number in Evernote and it failed to connect the first two times. Third time was the charm- very frustrating.

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