Mobile Vs Desktop Databases
If you are looking for a database system, you might be trying to decide if you should use your mobile device or a traditional desktop computer. For mobile you might have an Android tablet, an Android phone (like a Samsung Galaxy), an Apple iPad or an Apple iPhone. For a desktop computer you may have a Microsoft Windows system or an Apple iMac. And of course, you might be somewhere in the middle with a notebook or laptop computer. And if you like tinkering with hardware yourself you may even be running a Raspberry Pi, or Linux based desktop computer. While all of these devices can be powerful enough to support native database software, there are some important differences between the various platforms. In any case, internet traffic is now roughly split 50/50 between desktop and mobile systems, so a case can be made for adopting either platform.
Please note for the purposes of this article, we’re assuming that you want to install your database directly on your device. In other words, you are not using a browser like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari to simply access a cloud-based database on the internet (in this case your database is actually running on a remote computer, and you are simply using your device to access it).
Mobile devices are generally much smaller than desktop devices. They also use touch screens as interfaces, instead of traditional keyboards and mice (however this deficiency can be overcome if you pair your mobile device with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse). Obviously, a big advantage of a mobile device is that it’s light weight and portable. However, the price for the portability will be a smaller screen (ranging from 3.5 inches for a smart phone up to 12 inches for a large tablet), and less flexible data entry mechanisms.
If you are performing large amounts of data entry, a traditional desktop computer with a keyboard will likely be far more efficient (trying to type large amounts of data on a small touch screen isn’t very easy). This distinction can be somewhat blurred with hardware like a Microsoft Surface or another convertible notebook, but generally speaking a traditional desktop will always provide a better data entry experience then a mobile device. This is especially the case since a traditional desktop can be easily attached to larger external monitors, or even dual or multiple monitors.
Mobile Vs Desktop Internal Differences
Internally desktop and mobile devices have many similarities. They all use a combination of central processing units (CPUs), Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), RAM memory, longer term storage (flash or hard drive), motherboards, power supplies, audio speakers and microphones and external interfaces like USB connecters and Bluetooth. They also have built in networking capabilities like WIFI. In fact, the components in modern desktop and mobile devices can be almost identical. However, this doesn’t mean that mobile and desktop devices have identical capabilities.
Since desktop devices are often physically larger, they can house more of everything. A mobile phone will offer a more limited amount of memory, long term storage and processing capability. A desktop device generally contains more storage and memory, and more processing power simply because it has the space to house the needed hardware. When storing large amounts of data, a desktop device generally offers far greater capability. In fact, if you need to perform complex queries and define complex data relationships, a desktop system will likely perform much better.
Also, if you will be doing a lot of data analysis and reporting, a desktop will likely be faster and more efficient then your mobile device, as desktop systems are able to multitask (i.e., do more then one thing at once). Mobile devices offer more limited multitasking, so you constantly need to switch back and forth between different applications.
Database Client Access
If you have other people at your organization that need to access data stored on your system, once again a desktop platform will work much better. A desktop computer can be connected to the internet using wired Ethernet, a permanent connection, with a static IP address. Mobile devices are generally restricted to WIFI or cellular networks, that offer non permanent connections and less bandwidth and speed (4G only has a 5-12 Mbps download rate, 5G can have up to 50 Mbps). Also, desktop systems can be plugged directly into electrical outlets and left on and unattended 24/7. Mobile devices generally run-on batteries that need to be recharged. For a client, a connection to a desktop database with a wired ethernet connection will be much easier then connecting to a mobile device with a non permanent internet connection.
Mobile Vs Desktop User Interfaces
Smaller screen sizes on mobile devices can lead to design issues that are not found on desktop systems. For example, on a mobile device you might find a database search function on a pullout menu, while on a desktop the same database search function may be found on a more accessible fixed navigation bar. The larger screen size on a desktop computer makes functions much easier to find.
Also, a desktop device can make use of mouse pointers and cursors to unlock functionality. Since mobile devices are typically limited to touch screens, user interaction is more limited, and less precise. For example, on a desktop you could hover your mouse pointer over a picture to get more information. On a mobile device there is no concept of hovering, as you actually have to touch the screen to get a response. However, it should be noted that a touch screen can support various gestures that may be convenient, like pinch and zoom.
Since desktop monitors have wider screens, they can also support tabular data. Since databases can be used to store and display huge amounts of data, tables can be very convenient. Mobile devices are a bit more limited (although you can often shift between portrait and landscape views). On a mobile device, to see a complete data view you may need to scroll down. On a desktop all information may appear at once.
Font sizes on a desktop may also be larger, since the screens are larger. On a mobile device characters will often be smaller, making them more difficult to read.
Another advantage of a desktop system is that it can be easily expanded. If you find the screen too small, you can purchase a larger monitor, or add another monitor. If you are running out of memory, you can usually add more memory or hard disk space. If you are doing a lot of reporting or data visualization, you can upgrade the GPU.
On the other hand, a mobile device is much harder to upgrade. And even if you can upgrade your mobile device, you will likely find that it is far more expensive then upgrading a desktop system.
Related to system expandability, is the ability to add external devices to your system that can assist with data entry and reporting. For example, on a desktop device you can easily add a document scanner or external printer. You can also add devices like barcode scanners, to quickly check items in and out. Finally, it’s very easy to had large capacity external hard drives to desktop systems for data backups, critical for databases. On a mobile device, you are typically limited to Lexar and Scandisk type memory cards for additional storage capacity.
The fact is Mobile devices support less 3rd party peripherals. However mobile devices do often have built features like mobile cameras that may assist with image capturing, that can also be adapted to other applications like barcode scanning.
When Mobile is the Right Choice
If you have read the entire article, you will see that desktop systems offer many advantages. But there are still instances where you may want to go with a mobile based database system, especially if you need to track a limited number of items, and you primarily consume the content in your database, instead of constantly entering new information.
Indeed, if you find yourself wanting to look at and work with your database on your couch at home, waiting in a line, commuting on a bus or simply engaging in your leisure activities, you may find a mobile platform more appealing. Also, if you need to take your device with you to add item details (i.e., take pictures of items located in different locations), a mobile platform might be more convenient.
Lastly, mobile applications can sometimes may made to run on desktops through emulators, or data can be easily converted to portable formats like JSON. So even if you start with a mobile device, you may be able to view data on a desktop. However, moving from a desktop to a mobile device will likely be far more complicated.
Tracker Ten Desktop Application
If you do decide to go with a desktop database system, please have a look at our Tracker Ten software application. Our system works on newer Microsoft Windows desktop computers, and offers numerous prebuilt templates. We can also further customize the software to suit your exact needs.