Charlie Calvert on Elvenware

Writing Code and Prose on Computers


Table of Contents

Chapter 01: Mobile Devices

In this chapter you will learn what a mobile device is, why mobile devices are important, and what role they play in society.

What is a Mobile Device?

Mobile devices such as phones and tablets are small computers. Like a desktop or laptop, they come with a CPU, an operating system and a set of applications. The difference is that they are small and portable. Weighing less than two pounds, mobile devices are powerful tools that you can take with you on the road.

Some Mobile devices come with hardware rarely found on desktop machines. For instance, modern mobile devices support telephony, GPS, cameras, spatial awareness via accelerometers and gyroscopes, sensors that detect movement, and sensors that detect atmospheric pressure and temperature. At the same time, they support features commonly found on computers, such as wireless networks, touch screens, and media playback of audio and video files.

Described this way, mobile devices sound like advanced computers that are more powerful than desktops or laptops. This, of course, is not always the case. Mobile devices are small, and they usually pay a price for their compact size. For instance, many mobile devices have underpowered CPUs and graphics cards, they depend on a battery with a limited charge, they have small screens, and a limited set of input devices.

In other words, the choid between mobile devices and traditional computers involves a series of trade offs. If you want to master a mobile device, you need to understand those trade offs. The only way to do that is to gain a good understanding of your mobile device, its strengths, and its limitations.

NOTE: It is true that most mobile devices are plagued by underpowered CPUs. Technology, however, continues to evolve. The companies that sell computer chips make billions of dollars on their products. This money provides both the means and the motivates to continue to innovate. My Galaxy S4 phone, for instance, has a CPU so powerful that performance rarely becomes a problem. We are also seeing a proliferation of very small, highly specialized chips that can take on specific tasks such as voice recognition, and sensors that can help a device know when it can save work by, for instancing, blanking the screen. These constant improvements mean that speed will likely become a less important issue in the future.

Getting Connected

A mobile device that is not connected to the Internet is not particularly useful in this age. 15 or 20 years ago devices like the PalmPilot were useful, even though they were not on the Internet. Today, however, you have to be on the Internet.

There are many different ways in which a mobile device can be connected:

And then there are many other similar features that play a less prominant role:

Choosing a Mobile Device

Ultimately, the kind of mobile device you buy will be the result of a personal decision. If you are not at all sure which way to go, then here are some options to consider:

One question to consider, do you want a phone? If not, then it might be simplest to just get a tablet. They are bigger and and tend to be less expensive, and of course you don't need the cellular monthly fee to run a tablet, as you can just connect to the internet over a wifi network. There are, however, tablets that allow you to connect to cellular data, and that is usually cheaper than having a phone that features cellular data.

So assuming you want a tablet, and you don't want cellular data, what are the best tablets? Well, that depends on a few other criteria. For instance, do you want a 7 or 10 inch tablet?


The 7 inch tablets are usually cheaper. If that is what you want, then the Nexus, would have to be near the top of the list, along with the Samsung Galaxy Note or Tab.

Google Nexus comes in two varieties:

Other: - Kindle Fire


There is also a 32 GB version of the Nexus.

These kinds of decisions are hard to make, but going with either the Nexus or the Galaxy is likely to be a good choice. Asus also has some nice offerings in this line.

Windows Phone and Surface

The new version of the Windows Phone is called Windows Phone 8. The primary manufactures of Windows Phones are Nokia and HTC. Samsung is also in the game, but in a small way.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 megapixel camera.

On the Road with a Mobile Device

The current range of small devices is likely only a step in a transition from the relatively "centralized" world of PC computing to a distributed, ubiquitous computing model. We are moving toward a world with an abundance of small computers that come equiped with many different chips, sensors, and a powerful set of cloud based technologies.

Digital devices will be embedded in cars, in refrigerators, even in milk cartons and the clothes we wear. In every room of the house, and in every appliance in each room, we will find digital devices. Even tiny, common things like light bulbs or can openers will come with miniature computers embedded in them.

Size is important and usually bigger is better. In this case, though, a device's appeal resides not in its "bigness", but rather in its "smallness," its portability.

It may be easy to get a mobile device to a remote location. However, its value comes not only from its proximity, but also from its connectivity. Being able to take a device with us to a concert, a restaurant or a national park is a great thing. However, its real power comes from its ability to connect from a remote spot in a national park to the cloud.

To be fully useful, a device must allow us to access our cloud data, and to update our cloud data. A device need not always be connected directly to the cloud, but if it is not connected, it needs to know how to store data from the cloud in a local cache, and to update those cloud data sources when it is reconnected.

Mobile devices and the cloud live in a symbiotic relationship. Without the cloud, mobile devices would not be such a vital component of modern life, and without mobile devices the cloud would not have such a broad reach across all strata of our society. In fact, nearly all data rises in value when stored in the cloud. In the ubiquitous computing model of the future, data collected on all our devices will be accessible from the cloud.

Mobile devices force us to divorce our data from our hard drives. They set us free by encouraging us to move our data from our hard drives to the cloud. This is a key point. Just buying a mobile device will not severe your chains to your hard drive. You need to actively work to free yourself from the static world of hard drives, and move step by step into the more dynamic world of cloud computing.

A key task for people adapting mobile technology is to learn how to move our data to the cloud, and how to overcome the many impediments to this goal. Some of these impediments are technical, but many are psychological. It would be foolish to deny that their are many unscrupulous businesses or individuals who want to use your data for their own purposes. Data is money. It is more than money, it is power. People want your data. However, people also want your money. That does not mean that you never use a bank or a credit card. The cloud makes your data more powerful, just as a finincial institution can help you manage your money. The goal is not to become the pawn of the scrupulous, but neither is it wise to become overly paranoid. Instead, you want to learn how to use the cloud with the appropriate measure of caution and wisedom. But use the cloud we must, if we don't want to be left behind. And our use of the cloud should not be particularly restrained. We want to use the cloud broadly and intensely.

Using a Mobile Device

Both PCs and mobile devices are computers based on the same fundamental digital technologies. There are, however, profound differences in the way we use these tools. At least in theory, you can do almost anything with a mobile device that you can do with a PC and vice versa. In practice, however, there are some things best done with a PC, and others best done on a mobile device.

In general the following are useful rules of thumb:

Mobile devices are good at:

Note that the first three or four items on this list are things that mobile devices generally do better than PCs. Hardly anyone uses a PC for photography or navigation, two tasks at which mobile devices excel. This helps make it clear that mobile devices are not necessarily technology inferior to PCs, they are just different.

If you are lost in a strange town, it won’t do you much good to have a PC in the back seat, and even a laptop might not be able to help. But a phone can usually help you get located in a few quick seconds, and then provide detailed information explaining exactly how to get back on track.

You certainly can add GPS to your office desktop. Its usefulness, however, would be limited to all but the most paranoid. "Better check my location again! Phew! Here I am, still right where I was when I came into work this morning!" Users of an Android phone, on the other hand, can use GPS to get constantly updated directions to a store or to a friend's house.

You can attach a camera to your office PC and use it to take still pictures. There can be a time when such a feature is useful; most people, however most people would not trade a PC for the camera built into the back of their phone. A web CAM on a PC, however, might be just as useful as the camera on a phone, but each would shine in specific contexts.

Most people are still reluctant to trade the Word Processors found on their phones and tablets for the Word Processor on their PC. This doesn't mean that they can't use a tablet to compose a document, but most people probably still find it easier to perform that task on a PC.

Mobile applications like Evernote are doing much to break down this distinction. I find it relatively easy to input relatively short text documents using a Swype keyboard and Evernote. It takes some practice to refine your ability to use such tools, but the situation is constantly improving.

Voice recognition on mobile devices is getting so good that it is now practical to record text on a phone, push it to the cloud, and edit it later on a PC. In some cases, you can attach a keyboard to a mobile device and input or edit text in a manner that is just as effective as input from a mobile device.

Calendars provide value on both a PC and a mobile device. An office worker managing a complex schedule might prefer the calendar on their PC to a calendar on a phone. For instance, the large screen on a PC might help them get an overview of a complex and detailed schedule that involved multiple people. The same person might use their phone, however, to note an appointment they set up while talking to a friend at coffee shop or during a meeting. This kind of system will only work properly, however, if both the phone and the PC have access to the same data.

We can tweet equally well from a PC or a phone, but there is no denying that Tweeting is an activity designed for and made popular by users of mobile devices. If you just arrived at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle and want the world to know of your glory, a PC would probably be useless, a laptop awkward, but a phone or tablet would be the perfect platform for launching your tweet into the world.

The Pace of Change

If one is going to talk about mobile technology, one subject that needs to be tackled is the relentless pace of innovation. Occasionally a friend will comee up to me and say: "Well, what is next?" Usually they mean the question sincerely, but some will have an odd context to the question that might be translated like this: "Well, its over now, right? There isn't really anything left to invent in the field of PCs, laptops and mobile devices."

Indeed, it is possible that such a state of affairs will prevail some day. For now, however, we can assume that pace of innovation will increase, rather than decrease. After all, that is what we saw during the first 50 years of computing, and it is likely to be what we see in the next fifty years.

Here is a chronology of the emergence of new technologies on mobile devices over the last few years:


Here are some exercises you can try to help you get started on your mobile journey.

After adopting the correct mindset, the next step is to attempt complete immersion. Try some of the following:

The point is to immerse yourself in mobile technologies. Do you like to take photographs? Well then, set a weekend aside and learn how you can use your mobile device as a camera, and how to use the cloud to publish your results.

Mobile Everywhere

Mobile devices hold out the promise of integrating computing into our daily life. It is a matter of faith among the hardcore believers that eventually we will use computers to do many things:

Our cars, phones, stoves, refrigerators, lights, furnaces, windows and doors will all be controlled by devices of various kinds.

Whether we find such a vision exciting or frightening is a matter of personal preference. Perhaps many of us find it both exciting and frightening at the same time. Regardless,


Here you will find a short overview of commonly used display technologies for mobile devices.


Acronym: Liquid Crystal Display

A flat technology that uses electrodes and blue, green and red filters to create colored light.


Acronym: Thin-film transistor (TFT)

This technology is also called active matrix.


Acronym: Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED)

Less power hungry than existing LCD technologies. Contains organic materials that produce their own light.


Acronym: Active-matrix OLED (AMOLED)

It is a hybrid technology combining TFT and OLED. Their fast pixel switching response times yield high performance displays.