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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's abolish the term "mobile"

According to what I read, a tablet that’s only used at home is “mobile”, while a laptop that’s constantly used on the go is not.

That makes no sense at all.

And it causes bad decisions to be made around the expected uses of a device that’s called “mobile” versus one that is not. As Martin Belam remarks, “The assumption that using a mobile device means I’ve only got twenty seconds to snack on information whilst dashing for a train is one that belongs back in a world where data connections were expensive and bandwidth was scarce. I could just as easily be sitting on my sofa at home, picking up the phone because it is in my pocket, whereas the tablet or laptop I have are a couple of metres away.”

In many cases the terms phone, tablet, and PC (or computer) are quite sufficient. Today’s smartphones and tablets are pretty similar except for size (and whether there’s phone functionality, though even this is blurry given that you can Skype over WiFi): they’re touchscreen-driven and run iOS or Android or something like that, rather than a PC operating system like Windows or Mac OS. So it’s understandable that they’re often referred to collectively – but “mobile” is the wrong term to use for them. When tablets running Windows 8/RT arrive later this year, will they be called mobiles too?

It would be great if we could stop using the term, and instead say what we really mean (e.g. “phone or tablet”). It would take more words for a while, but then new terms would emerge that do make sense.

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