The advantage of mobile devices has always been that they are mobile. The price of mobility was tiny screens, fiddly interfaces, reduced functionality and bizarre auto-corrected spelling. All of that was a pain, but that price was worth paying, because mobility trumps a lot.

Quietly in the background, something strange has happened. Now there are things mobile devices are just better at that aren’t (directly at least) about being small and mobile. The big one for me is sharing. Android apps can share data with other apps which broadcast their readiness to receive them.  Keep an article linked on twitter to read later? Share it to instapaper. Capture a paragraph from a web page on its way to becoming interesting elsewhere? Share it to pinboard. Send something amusing to a friend? Share it to email. Spot a prompt for a future blog post? Share it to wordpress. And so on and on.

Some of that can be done reasonably gracefully on a windows pc, but some of it can only be done much more laboriously. Beyond the crude cut and paste of the clipboard, none of it is baked into the operating system, so it all works inconsistently when it works at all.

So now sometimes sitting in front of the large screen at the full size keyboard with the powerful computer behind it, I find myself frustrated that it is so inconvenient to do what my little android device can do so easily.

But that’s only the beginning. Richard Pope has just written a great post on designing for the web in 2015, with a long list of ways in which a phone-based browser is sensitive to context and environment:

The web browser on your phone has access to sensors, outputs and offline storage to make proper contextual design a reality. It can:

  • capture a screen
  • check if a tab has been backgrounded
  • check the battery
  • check orientation of the device in 3 dimensions
  • check and lock the orientation of the screen
  • detect the pitch of a sound
  • listen to you
  • record video and audio
  • respond to ambient light
  • share all or part of your screen
  • show notifications
  • talk to you
  • talk, type or video conference someone
  • use your camera
  • vibrate
  • work offline

There are still plenty of things it is easier to do with a full size computer. Writing blog posts is one of them. But the balance is shifting and the power to do things differently is happening somewhere else.

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