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Is an iPhone enough for a CS conference?

Short answer no. Short justification, the battery does not last long enough. But let me first start with some of the typical things I do during a CS conference such as ICSE or CSCW and then go over the pro’s and con’s of using an iPhone. And here is the list in no particular order:

  • Attend talks/keynotes.
  • Attend conference breaks.
  • Give talks/presentations.
  • Tweet.
  • Take pictures.
  • Check stuff on the web.
  • E-Mail.
  • Take notes.
  • Exchange contact information.

Attend talks/keynotes

Yes, I still go to conference to actually attend talks, not just because of the location and the opportunity to go on relatively cheap vacations. And attending talks often means walking from room to room, to maximize the gain from listening to talks that are relevant to me and my research.

Believe me the power outlets are always positioned in such a way that you will inconvenience half the room when you want to leave a session. Think front most on either side of the room. Thus not relying on anything that needs a table or power outlet is a win. And the additional benefit of an iPhone is it fits in your pockets, unlike an iPad or a netbook (tried not to mention the Mac Book Air on purpose, darn), which occupies a hand or need to be fit into a backpack, both decreasing maneuverability around other attendants.

Attend conference breaks

We all get hungry at one point and for the small hungers and thirst (in the morning often dominated by the need for coffee) we got those awesome breaks with refreshments. But at conferences with several 100 attendees this can get very crammed and the less you need to carry in your hands and the smaller your profile, meaning no backpack better than having one, the better. You don’t run into people, you don’t drop your coffee and you can get also something to eat with your coffee.

Give talks/presentations

At this years CSCW I was fortunate to give a talk, for more information see my last post. I was considering to use my iPhone to give my presentation but decided against it for two reasons. (1) I don’t have the latest version of Apple Keynote and thus would have needed to revert to doing a pdf presentation without animations, and (2) most importantly there is no remote that you can use to control your presentation and thus limiting you maneuverability (yes I know you can use another iOS device using the KeynoteRemote app, but believe me conference wireless at academic CS conferences is something you really shouldn’t rely upon).


There are often folks of mine that are left at home, such as fellow students that couldn’t find the funding to attend a conference, but still would like to know what is going on at the conference in particular at the talks. The by far easiest thing is to tweet bits and peaces as they happen (it is also a good way to pay attention to a talk). But depending on you fellow audience members the typing speed you can reach as an untrained iPhone typist you are reduce to re-tweeting.

Take pictures

… for my blog, like here. I never bothered to invest my meager savings into a high end camera and for the low end the iPhone actually does produce some decent pictures, especially if you know a little bit about photo post-processing.

Check stuff on the web

Ever had the feeling that you need to check a claim of a presenter on the internet? Well, I certainly had and the iPhone is easy to pull out at a moments notice and to check something wether you sit in a talk on a chair or need to stand. Try checking something quickly getting you netbook from you backpack not being able to put it down somewhere to type.


E-mail, easiest thing. My pants are always on vibrate, sometimes annoying but always up to date. Sending work as well plus it helps you keep your responses brief due to the more tedious typing.

Take notes

Note taking is an art with the iPhone, but once you got the hang of using the keyboard it is a very handy way to actually write down your thoughts, you just need to get comfortable with the keyboard.

Exchange contact information

Bump is cool but not available to everyone, email on the iPhone awesome. But nothing has yet surpassed the business card.


Bottom line, I enjoyed to only run around with my iPhone and my charger, both fit neatly in my pockets and I was more agile in jumping from session to session. Plus I did not feel to temped to surf the web and instead listened to the talks more (sadly it made me realize even more how bad many of them really are). If you are not afraid give it a try (just don’t forget to take your wall-charger with you).

(btw I did my iPhone “only” test run at CSCW 2012)

Let me know how your smart phone only conference went!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29/02/2012 22:14

    1. If battery life is an issue, consider a separate battery for the iPhone. I have one of these, which well fits into a pant pocket:

    2. I frequently use my laptop to read the conference papers being presented. Doing this on an iPhone would be a pain – but wouldn’t an iPad be a good compromise?

    • 01/03/2012 09:21

      Regarding 1:
      An external battery would certainly be a good solution, I definitely need to give it a try

      Regarding 2:
      reading papers on the iPhone is definitely a pain, I guess at CSCW I never felt the urge to read most of the papers. Interestingly enough, I got access to all the papers I found interesting from their title before the conference.
      An iPad is definetly better for reading papers, it just doesn’t fit into my pockets (yet). And from using an iPad at last ICSE I don’t think it actually gives you any advantages over using MacBook Air.

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