What Does 'Mobile' Mean?

30 April 2021

This is a sketch . It might be rough, incomplete or without context.

In relation to technology and engineering, what does mobile actually mean?

1. Mobile hardware

In terms of hardware, mobile refers to smartphones, tablets, and, to some degree, smartwatches. On the periphery it includes devices with voice interfaces, such as Alexa and Google Assistant. There is also some overlap with other, connected, smart devices.

2. Platforms

Primarily Android and iOS. Historically, also Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, Symbian, and Palm OS (and others).

The lines are blurring between the edges of platforms. For example, iOS apps can run on macOS with Catalyst. And the latest iPad Pros and Macs both have M1 chips.

3. Apps

Mobile technology centres around apps.

  • Primarily, this is apps that are installed natively (including hybrid, cross-platform and native SDK apps — see this discussion on different types of mobile apps).
  • Web apps and services are also important on mobile platforms. These are not installed natively, but are accessed via a browser (see this discussion on mobile web apps).
  • On the edges, there are things like Siri and other voice interactions and bot-style, messaging app integrations.

4. Why mobile?

There are two, primary drivers for why organisations are interested in mobile.

  • The first is user engagement. Most apps generate value via user engagement, usually through one of these business models.
  • The second is what I call technology. Here apps rely on some technology feature that is either only available on mobile, or where portability and ubiquity of mobile unlocks their potential. Examples of this are augmented reality, depth perception, nearby scanning, accelerometers, NFC. User engagement is still important here, but the user engagement is derived from the technological utility.