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.

Pictures, words and smells

A380 over Cranford
I am very slowly walking my way around the LOOP – the London Outer Orbital Path. By the end of last year, I had made it from Erith to Hatton Cross. A few days ago I set off to tackle the next stretch. It didn’t start well, as the path beside the River Crane was impassably flooded. I invented a diversion which took me along streets with houses almost as close as it is possible to get to the end of the runway at Heathrow, with planes seemingly scraping their wheels on the television aerials every couple of minutes.

We’ve all seen pictures of what that looks like, they are a feature of every story about new runways and new airports, and there’s been no shortage of those recently. Somehow the planes look bigger in their pictures than they seemed at the time (though somehow planes always look smaller in my pictures than they seemed at the time). But what the pictures can’t show is the smell. Across the width of the flight path, there is a constant low level tang of lightly roasted hyrdrocarbons. Most of the time, even there, there is not a plane to be seen. Some of the time, not a plane can be heard. But the smell is constant, refreshed every couple of minutes, just as it might otherwise start to fade.

Smell is in many ways the most evocative of senses, but is the one our multi-megapixel surround sound hi-res 3D media world doesn’t even attempt to transmit (technological dead ends such as Smell-O-Vision notwithstanding). Pictures of planes against clear blue skies tell you some of the story, but can’t tell you what’s missing from it. For that, there’s still no substitute for walking and breathing.

Public Strategist, Private Tactician

I have been blogging at the Public Strategist for almost exactly ten years now. That’s where I write about things which are more or less to do with public policy (and strategy), sometimes briefly, but often in posts of a couple of thousand words, adding up to almost a quarter of a million words altogether.  Over the last five years or so, I have also written over ten thousand tweets as Pubstrat, a compressed public strategist. That ought to be enough for anyone, but every now and then there are things which it occurs to me to write which don’t feel weighty enough for Public Strategist, but can’t easily be squeezed into 140 characters.

So today the public strategist acquires an alter ego, the private tactician. This new blog will be tactical not just as a way of not being strategic, but because it has no strategy. I am not quite sure what I will find myself writing in it, or if I will find myself writing here much at all. In a year, or two, or ten perhaps that will become clear. Or perhaps strategy will never be an emergent property of tactics.