James and I have been involved in the mobile technology space for quite some time now. He’s been using mobile devices “since they weighed 30 pounds.” Those are the days when I weighed 30 pounds, but you catch my drift. Between the two of us, we have years of practical experience in this space. And while new gadgets, operating systems and software appear on a daily basis, there are still some common fundamentals that are useful — mobile maxims, if you will. While the specific tools supporting them might change, these mobile suggestions never go out of style.
1. Always buy a second battery for your main device — This one is really simple. If you can afford it, buy a second battery for your main notebook or netbook upon purchasing the device. I do this for a few reasons. Doubling the battery life on any of my current — and presumably future — devices means that I have all day mobile computing. This frees me from having to work only in locations where I may be able to find an electrical outlet. I don’t have to be constrained to locations with electricity when I have two batteries. This also helps with leveling the “wear” in my batteries. Eventually, the batteries will hold less of a charge when full. By rotating batteries on a regular basis, I can even out that wear over time. If I don’t do that, I end up with two batteries that offer a wildly variable run time. Need another reason to buy a second battery at time of purchase? You don’t have to worry as much about battery availability in the future. There’s nothing worse than to have a device — and its batteries — become discontinued or hard to find when you really need a spare power pack.
2. Carry a toolkit for drive restores — It helps to expect the unexpected. In the case of mobile computers, it could be a hard drive failure, file corruption or who knows what. While you can’t anticipate every issue, you can easily prepare yourself for disaster with nothing more than a small flash drive. I carry one around with me and make sure it has software like a partition manager, certain device drivers, portable apps and anything else I might need in the event of a major issue. These days it’s not all that hard to build up a collection of such tools and drop them on a cheap USB drive. Why not even carry an OS with you? Ubuntu can be booted and run off of a flash drive in a pinch.
3. Have a backup plan for wireless connectivity — You can’t be totally mobile without some type of connectivity. So I pay for a monthly 3G plan with Verizon Wireless and use the very common USB adapter for it. This lets me use the connection with any Mac or PC, plus I can share that connection over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi in a pinch. But I also pay $10 a month for access to the Boingo Wireless network. I consider it cheap insurance and I often use it at a Starbucks or other location. I also have my iPhone set up for Internet Tethering, which is why I’m not upgrading beyond iPhone OS 3.0. I recommend having at least one backup connectivity plan, just in case your primary one goes on the fritz. It happened to me once before and because I was prepared, I was still productive.
4. When not in use, turn off the juice — There are many strategies for this mantra and they’ll vary based on your needs and your devices. For me it means to turn off radios and put devices into sleep mode when possible. I often use this strategy with my mail and RSS feeds. Because I use Google for both services and Google supports offline use via Gears — except for Snow Leopard installs — it’s common for me to fetch mail or feeds and then shut down my Wi-Fi or 3G. Although idle radios today are more efficient than they used to be, why have them use power when I can work offline for a while thanks to Gears? I also reduce the screen brightness on everything to the lowest usable level that’s still comfortable. For me that’s around 30% or so, but of course for you it could be different. The point is: aside from using the built-in power management features of your device, reducing your power needs can help bring more run time during the day.
5. Invest in a useful web-based data storage and synchronization service (or provide your own) — I actually use several tools in this area, mainly because if one experiences a service disruption, chances are one of the others will be fine. The idea behind this mantra is to have your data available to you regardless of what device you have with you. And if your device itself goes bad, a web-based storage service like Dropbox, SugarSync, Box.net, or ZumoDrive (to name a few) can be used with a public or borrowed machine. Ultimately, you don’t want to have data only available to one local device. When you do, you’re limited to using only that device. If you can’t use that device because the batteries ran down or because you left it somewhere, you’re dead in the water with local data. The corollary to this mantra is to provide your own remote storage. I’ve done just that with my Windows Home Server project, but you don’t need to buy or build another machine. Installing remote access software or using a service like LogMeIn can get you back to the data on a computer at home.
6. Consider using the “lightest” tool for the task at hand — Think about pairing the right tool with right task when it comes to mobile activities. For example, if I’m simply consuming basic content like email, I use my phone. Why? Because the phone battery lasts far longer than a laptop battery. It’s a “lighter” tool for the task and saves the battery on a “heavier tool” like my netbook or notebook for doing things I can’t easily do on the phone. I realize that it’s far more comfortable to reply or compose long emails on a larger device, so I often read my mail and mark items so I know I have to take action or respond. I later take action on those messages on the laptop if they require much typing. The same goes for checking a few items on the web. Why waste CPU cycles and battery life on a notebook or netbook if I can almost as easily hit them on a handset? Would I sit and surf the web for hours on a phone? Nope. But if I’m just checking the latest Techmeme headlines, browsing the most recent blog comments or something else that’s a bite-sized chunk of the web, why not do it on a “lighter” device? It seems a shame to waste precious battery life on a laptop for small, Internet morsels.
7. Tote a headset –– I make sure to always carry a wired headset and mic combo. At first, this one might sound frivolous, but I’ve found it to be very useful. It doesn’t add much weight to your gear bag, yet it can reap big rewards. I still carry a Bluetooth headset from time to time, but you run the risk of a dead battery. With a wired headset, battery life is one less thing to worry about. It comes in handy when you’re trying to work in a noisy area or you simply want to hear some relaxing music. I can also hear much better on a headset when a call comes in because I can be in any number of situations. It could be noisy when that phone rings unexpectedly, but I’m prepared to have my conversation regardless.
So those are my mobile mantras. Pick and choose to see what works for you. Even better — share yours in the comments so we can build up a nice useful list!