James Martin of PC World is focusing on small mobile computers in a recent article, including everything from MIDs to UMPCs, to the new MacBook Air. He certainly covers a range of devices within the portable class and offers some interesting pros and cons. He also poses a number of good questions that users should ask before heading off with a mobile device in hand. But I think he’s missing one key question. What are your connectivity options?
Connectivity is one of the pillars that mobile computing is built on and you don’t see a device these days without some sort of option built in ranging from WiFi to WWAN, to the various ports that allow you to add on a modem of some sort, or BlueTooth that enables you to tether up, depending on your wireless carriers restrictions.
My thinking here is that more and more the assumption is being made that WiFi will be available somewhere, and if not, smart users will have other options at the ready. While both may be true, recent experiences are proving that the promise of being always connected isn’t always something you can rely on. As an example, I’m seeing folks at the current Demo Conference complaining that the WiFi is down. While those that have an EVDO option available are sending some info out of the conference, I look shortly to hear that the EVDO bandwidth is clogged up. In fact, though I would recommend that you not rely on a WiFi only device, and have another method of connecting in your arsenal, even with a second option, you should also know that you can have less than optimal results depending on the circumstances.
My point is simple, while picking the right mobile device is a task that needs to match the needs of the user with the right device, users need to also consider the current state of over the air connectivity, and the options a device offers before making that decision. And the vast majority of those cases, (including WiFi connectivity at hotels and the like) add cost to the user that are not insignificant. In fact, today, I think buying a mobile device without figuring in the costs of connectivity is in some ways comparable to buying a new car without paying attention to the potential fuel consumption.