Tablet Productivity – A World Of Compromise

Tablet ProductivityBack in early November I wrote a post about challenging my tablet productivity assumptions, and set out with the goal of leaving my laptop behind (as much as possible) and doing most, if not all, of my work on my tablet.

As per my previous post, this adventure in mobile productivity meant pairing my Nexus 7 with a nice Sharkk Bluetooth keyboard (which I can’t rave about enough), making sure I had plenty of backup power (not such a great experience) and finding solutions to productivity problems that aren’t even a second thought on my laptop.

In undertaking this challenge I really wanted to reverse my opinions about iPads (and tablets in general) being mostly media consumption devices (or Tonka toys of general computing) and come out swinging in favor of tablets being awesome productivity machines. I’m afraid that after a month of working as exclusively as I could on my tablet(s), there were simply far to many compromises made to quality and efficiency for me to call tablet productivity effective.

Yes, I’m sure there are some cases where people are hyper-effective working on their tablets, but those are niche cases. I’m sorry to inform you but your niche case does not make a strong argument for mainstream productivity.

Before I get into what I was doing and attempting, let me clarify that I DO NOT consider checking Facebook, answering email, instant messaging or anything like that productivity.

As a marketing consultant even I can’t justify hours of Facebook activity as productivity, and if you’re spending hours answering your email then you are clearly doing it wrong.

Anyway, when working for clients and equipped with my laptop, I find myself living in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Dreamweaver (and the awesome Notepad++), Photoshop, Audition, Premiere, RDP, VNC, various EHR and practice management solutions, and of course a browser.

Finding workable solutions for the Microsoft Office suite was easy enough – I just do everything in Google Apps (which I am fully vested in for my non-client work anyway), but there are issues such as formating of exported documents, and added steps that frankly  make it a pain in the backside to move stuff between Google Apps and clients that are using the Microsoft suite.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Apps is awesome for how I use it, but I’ve yet to encounter a non-Microsoft product that exports/imports perfectly with no formatting errors.

Dreamweaver, Notepad++ and Filezilla proved to be an interesting challenge to replace, but after testing a number of apps I have absolutely fallen in love with DroidEdit Pro. It’s an awesome text and source code editor with syntax highlighting for lots of languages (HTML, CSS, C, C++, C# Python, Ruby and more…) as well as SFTP/FTP/Dropbox  support and much, much more. If you’re a developer and need to get your hands dirty in code while you’re on the go without your laptop, you can’t do much better than this app.

I gave up trying to find workable mobile replacements for Photoshop, Audition and Premiere. Yes, there are a lot of stopgaps and half measures which are “kind of almost” passable, but the compromise in quality and features is not worth the the hassle. It’s much easier to stay with full featured desktop apps that also have the processing power to plough through the work in a decent amount of time.

While finding mobile replacements for desktop applications has been very hit-or-miss, even when I do find a suitable replacement there are always compromises to be made. Those compromises may be in terms of quality, the ability to easily export in formats that my clients can use, or simply because doing the work on the table can involve more steps (such as getting source materials to and from the tablet).

Did I mention that it also takes longer to do almost everything on a mobile device? Even with my nifty Bluetooth keyboard I’m still not as fast as I am with a laptop.

Access to files has also been a major issue. Yes there are lots of solutions out there such as Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive and more. I use all of the cloud storage/sync solutions I’ve mentioned and they’re great when I need to get to an invoice template but downloading a 30MB .PSD or a 1Gig+ .wav audio file for editing? Most of these services are just far too slow and storage space/bandwidth constrains on mobile devices may be a concern.

BitTorrent Sync has proven to be a lifesaver in that regard. Not only does the mobile app allow me to selectively download files from my shares on my home server, but it also allowed me to set up shares on desktop computers at my clients offices so I could have access to files, fonts, graphics and other assets that I use in my work but would normally be on my laptop. That way I can use their machines to do the work and have access to assets that I need without hauling my laptop around.

The solution works and doesn’t take long to set up, but, it’s a compromise that has to be made in order to work on a mobile platform.

I think it’s fair to say, that mobile devices are not yet ready to knock the desktop PC or laptop in terms of productivity.. In doing this challenge, I found myself not just using my Nexus 7, but also having to use my iPad at the same time. Some of my clients provide me with a dedicated workspace and computers so I was able to do a lot do the work there that I couldn’t do on the tablets and not impact my productivity. For my other clients I simply had to bring a laptop to remain as productive as possible.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. While I may not be able to replace my laptop (yet) I have found that I can replace large segments of my workflow and get by enough that I don’t always need to carry a fuller featured device around.

Take audio recording as an example. My Nexus 7, 4 or iPad coupled with the iRig Mic Cast, iRig Recorder or Hi-Q MP3 Recorder creates a nice portable rig for on the fly podcasts with minimal editing abilities. There are a multitude of apps for managing servers, RDP, VNC, time management, invoicing, blogging (this entire post has been hammered out on my Nexus 7 using the WordPress app) and almost anything else you can think of – so you can certainly get by without your laptop, but they are mostly one-trick ponies.

I expect that as mobile productivity apps mature, and someone figures out that for folks like me productivity requires true multitasking, then one day I may be able to shed my laptop for a iPad 17 or Nexus 21 – I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Side note: Having not yet gotten my grubby mitts on a Surface or other Win 8.1 tablet, I obviously can’t comment on those from a productivity perspective.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m curious. You said that you conducted this test for a month. Did you find some increases in productivity during that month – for example, as you got more accustomed to the new keyboard?

    In my case, I wouldn’t even want to try to perform my enterprise-level work on any type of tablet – even a Windows tablet that supports the Microsoft applications. My technical demands are not as great as yours, but the one application that I do use is Word. It’s used to write proposals that could be several hundred pages in length – and even if the Microsoft application compatibility issues could be overcome, the small screen size would make things difficult.

    • says

      I certainly did, and you’re spot on, that the keyboard was the biggest addition in terms of increasing my productivity on the tablet. The very introduction of the tablet was a huge productivity and then as I became accustomed to typing on the smaller form factor keyboard things got even faster.

      The only thing is that while the keyboard solves one major productivity bottleneck (although, I wasn’t quite as fast as with a larger keyboard for my sausage fingers), there are so many others that aren’t as easily conquered.

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