The use of mobile computing devices in Canada is on a sharp rise. The number of mobile phone internet users is expected to grow from 22.8 million in 2016 to 28.6 million by 2021. In addition to their cell phones, many people now own other mobile computing devices such as tablets and e-readers. Such usage indeed points to the need for individuals with the capability to design, create, and program them – ensuring that they also answer several of the mobile computing issues and challenges.
It is incumbent on institutions that provide advanced training in computer science (such as Wilfrid Laurier University’s online Master’s in Computer Science program) to provide the skills necessary for today’s computer scientists to do just that. To understand these problems and challenges, it is necessary to know how mobile computing generally works.
Features of Mobile Computing
Our mobile devices’ capacities to connect to a multitude of servers in various locations is what permits us to leave the confines of our office or home and be able to work, plan, or socialize on the go. The mobile devices are connected to one or more stationary agents across a dynamic interconnection network. Mobile computing means we can:
- Access and process information
- Store information
- Communicate globally
These processes are all done wirelessly, giving us the freedom to innovate, entertain or be entertained, and maintain a high level of productivity wherever we may happen to be.
However, the lack of the wired connection also means that our mobile devices will typically not have the processing power or reliability of a wired device such as a PC, and lends to such mobile computing issues as:
- Reliance on battery power
- Connectivity and reliability
- Security and privacy
What are the Powering Issues in Mobile Computing?
A wireless connection means reliance on batteries to keep our mobile devices running when we are unable to connect to a power source. While batteries have improved over time in terms of life and time to charge, they remain one of the leading mobile computing issues. Options such as bigger screens, additional sensors, and ways to connect means a more considerable drain on the device's battery. While we as consumers may expect the development of better batteries, it is also reasonable to expect the apps we use to also protect from excessive power drainage. A well-designed app should conserve the power of the device battery.
What are the Connectivity and Reliability Issues in Mobile Computing?
Depending on where you may be, you may experience poor connectivity with your mobile computing device. You may find yourself in a place (such as a rural location, or some buildings) where bandwidth is low, and there are gaps in coverage. Signal ranges can fluctuate. Reliability may suffer in the form of dropped calls or other types of disconnects. The more reliance on a network (as opposed to your device as a standalone computer), typically the more considerable the risk of disconnecting. App designers can potentially aid this situation by coding their apps to be more robust against the loss of network connections.
What are the Security and Privacy Concerns in Mobile Computing?
Data breaches can be costly both in terms of public trust and the associated expenses to remedy the situation. Canadian companies suffered data breach expenses to the tune of $6.11 million in 2017. While these costs were not necessarily incurred as a result of mobile computing, the increased use of mobile devices to conduct business has undoubtedly contributed to these costs. A mobile device can also be more readily misplaced or stolen than a wired PC (although that is another serious mobile computing issue). There are several potential threats to mobile security, including:
- Data leakage
- Wi-Fi interference
- Outdated device security/operating systems
- Lack of mobile app security testing
Data leakage can occur with apps that can see and/or transfer information stored in other apps. Sometimes this is a result of a user's decision to give the app those permissions – however, some apps do so with no indication to the user. This isn’t necessarily the case of a malicious programmer as it may be the case of one without the best training. This situation can be remedied to some degree with data loss prevention tools.
Public Wi-Fi networks are often a source of data breaches and compromised privacy. Easy access to an online connection generally means hackers and others have easy access as well. This could result in unauthorized access to your device, which can contain sensitive information (like banking account details). Your device could also be used by a hacker to break into a network or take control of your mobile features.
Other potential sources of risk include out of date security and operating systems on your devices. Consider the fact that an average cell phone connects to about 160 unique servers each day, meaning that we encounter several potential security risks at any given point. Manufacturers and designers of mobile computing devices must be forward-thinking and proactive when it comes to releasing operating systems and security patches. Mobile app security testing also needs to be taken very seriously by developers, and apps should be tested in the various ways that they are used by the customers.
Other Mobile Computing Issues and Challenges
Having a portable device often means other sacrifices as well, such as storage space. Most devices are constrained by their size and battery usage. The arenas of user interfaces and storage capacities could benefit from well-educated designers and developers finding more innovative ways for the user to expend less effort in accessing files, accomplishing a task, and saving information.
Managing the Issues and Challenges in Mobile Computing
When using public Wi-Fi, make use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Other steps a user can take to protect his or her mobile computing privacy include adding security measures for mobile device access, such as biometric sensors or secure passwords. Users should also seriously consider any permissions a downloaded app requests, and whether using that app is worth any potential data leakage risk.
Looking to Go Further in Mobile Computing?
Those interested in a career in computer science (which includes mobile computing) should look for a program that offers specific course content and activities that address how to manage the issues and challenges. The online Master’s in Computer Science offered by Laurier has courses in cyber attacks and defense, teaching students how to develop robust, secure mobile apps.
Addressing the challenges and issues of mobile computing means efforts on behalf of both the developers and the users, but ultimately means a more seamless experience as our mobile worlds continue to expand.