The Online World is Going Mobile

This article has nothing to do with genealogy, other than many genealogists are sensitive about changes in the world around themselves as well as what the worlds of their ancestors were like. Indeed, the world is changing rapidly today.

If you are looking for true genealogy articles, you might want to skip this one.

Are you mobile?

It seems the current trend of the online world is moving to small, handheld devices. Sales of laptop computers are stagnant while sales of desktop computers have been dropping for several years. Yet the sales of tablet computers and so-called “smartphones” is exploding. I admit that I spend more time on the Internet and with email with my smartphone than I do with the computer with a 27-inch monitor that sits on my desk back home.

Now a report from Return Path says that more than half of emails worldwide (55%) are opened in a mobile environment in 2017, significantly more than either webmail (28%) or desktop (16%). Mobile has emerged as the dominant email environment since Return Path last conducted its survey in 2012, when only 29% of emails were opened on a mobile device, and webmail clients were the most popular method of accessing such electronic missives. Return Path also found that Apple’s iOS was dominant among mobile email users worldwide, with 79% of mobile emails opened on either an iPhone or iPad this year. While only 20% of emails were opened on a device running Android, that was actually an increase of 6 percentage points from 2012’s figure.

The report by Return Path only covers email but I suspect similar usage patterns are true for web sites and even more so for text messaging/instant messaging.

I can identify with that. I check email more often with the smartphone than I do with a desktop computer.

By the way, as I have written before, I also save all my files and all my old email messages in at least two different file storage services in the cloud. As a result, I can quickly access any of my saved information when I am at home, in a hotel room with the laptop, or when in a store and using the smartphone. I find I am using mobile capabilities more and more every day.

Example: From a recent conversation at Bed, Bath, and Beyond: the store clerk asked, “What size curtains do you need for your bedroom windows?” I had the answer within a few seconds simply by tapping a few icons on my smartphone.

In “the old days” before I used cloud storage, my answer would have been, “Gee, I’ll have to go home and measure them.”

Thanks to data storage in the cloud, I had measured those windows years ago and stored the measurements in the cloud, along with thousands of other bits of information from my life. Retrieving that information only requires a few seconds, thanks to the “search all files” capabilities of the cloud-based file storage services.

The same thing is true for genealogy information: having easy access to my entire family tree, including all my notes and references, is very handy when visiting a new archive or library.


Dick that is my experience too, though I have yet to find a satisfactory “mobile” way of accessing my Genealogy data. I use FTM 2017 on PC and Mac with common data and media files stored and synced in Dropbox. I don’t publish my data on Ancestry so the iPad / Phone App is of no use. What’s missing is a FTM 2017 App (or third party App) that can just read the Dropbox data file for quick reference. How do you access your master database?


    —> How do you access your master database?

    I keep it in

    I can access it from a web browser, from the mobile app for Android and Apple tablets and smartphones, and from the free Family Tree Builder program available for both Windows and Macintosh. Having one master database simplifies many things!


    Or you could use WebTrees or TNG. For myself, I run my own web-server and MySql database on my desktop, but there are hosting sites “out in the wild” who’ll provide the necessary services for a relatively modest monthly fee (your definition of “modest” might be different from mine, of course, but …) Since the data display is web-based, there’s no o/s-centric nonsense on the remote end – if you have a browser on your device you can access your data from wherever you have an internet connection.

    If you “roll your own”, you’ll have to worry about backups/restores, site security, application updates, and all the rest of the techy admin stuff, whereas with a hosting company, they do it all for you for that “modest” fee. Whichever way you choose to go, however, both are useful and powerful tools. (Dick has reviewed both WebTrees and TNG (The Next Generation) previously and I’d bet you can still access those reviews for more details.)

    Yeah, cloud computing is the current thing, I have to admit that I’m paranoid about my data collection and much prefer to do things for myself, rather than trust some outside agency. That’s my preference, however – as always, YMMV.


A word of redress from the Luddite tendency …
You were predicting much the same 10 years ago and I still don’t see the death of the PC coming any time soon although I agree that the trend towards cloud and mobile does seem unstoppable.
Just a personal view but I hate fiddling with a small screen and on-screen swiping and tippy-tapping (and not because I’m advanced in years … I’m not). The only time I use my smartphone for other than making phone calls is when an app is genuinely useful (travel tickets etc … again I concede that this is increasing in frequency). Otherwise I always prefer to use my laptop. I spent 11 hours in an archive yesterday and the experience would have been a lot less productive without my trusty laptop and trusty old PAF database open next to me … the thought of having to use a mobile linked to a cloud-based tree makes me shudder!

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“Return Path also found that Apple’s iOS was dominant among mobile email users worldwide, with 79% of mobile emails opened on either an iPhone or iPad this year. While only 20% of emails were opened on a device running Android”
Interesting that, given that Apple has only 20% to 30% of the mobile market worldwide compared to 65% to 75% for Android according to web stats.


I believe a lot of this change to mobile devices has more to do with price than preference. Have you looked at the price of laptops and PC’s?


Quick lookups are okay on mobile devices and access can’t be beat. But smartphone screens are ridiculously small for serious research and I find toggling between iPad apps very annoying. Laptops are my preference for work on the road. But at home, for sustained research, data entry and writing sessions using multiple resources, I want to sit (and alternately stand) at a desk with a nice big screen and a real keyboard in front of me. I’ll take all the options for different purposes.


    Fully agree, the small screens are for short, very short term use only. Give me my 20-inch screen and desktop computer for my serious work. Of course, I am not traveling any more so I am always with my desktop.


I am very old I know, and I am very happy with my desktop and laptop. My son is so convinced that I “need” a smartphone that he bought me one. I have had it for a month and I have yet to use it for anything. Everything about it is so confusing. I open it, determined to learn something besides turning it on and off and after a few minutes – off it goes back in the drawer.


    My MIL is 87 years old, and we just got her a smartphone last year. She can use it to call someone, especially if she were to get in a pickle with a fall, or needed to be picked up from somewhere (like not wanting to stay the whole time her car might be worked on). Until recently, she could answer a text sent to her, but now knows how to ‘begin’ a text and also how to download the photos she gets of her grandkids and great grandkids from the texts. Some things we have explained to her over the (landline) phone since we live in the mid-Atlantic and she lives in mid-Florida, and other times we have daily lessons with her the twice-a-year we are down there with her for about 2 weeks at a time. It just takes some time and patience. Keep working on it, you’ll get there! And you might really NEED it someday and be thankful you have it and know how to operate it!


Hi Dick, I’m Erik Dauwen from Belgium, now living in the US. I’m a starting genealogist and I find your articles most interesting and I learn a lot of it. I read in this article you use I’m still trying to decide which software to use. Can you explain why you prefer MyHeritage above Ancestry or FamilySearch or Family Tree Maker. I’m attracted to Family Tree Maker 2017 but I’m not sure yet. I would appreciate your advice very much.
Best greetings,


    —> I read in this article you use I’m still trying to decide which software to use. Can you explain why you prefer MyHeritage above Ancestry or FamilySearch or Family Tree Maker.

    There is no simple or short answer, I am afraid. There is an old joke that is absolutely true: “Which is the best genealogy web site for you to use? The one that has information about YOUR ancestors!” Obviously, that is difficult or maybe impossible to find out in advance.

    I have used all the larger online genealogy web sites. What I find that differentiates MyHeritage from the others is:

    The best name matching technology I have ever seen. It is called “Smart Matching” and is described at:

    The best method of searching original records I have seen. It actually does search while you sleep! There are two versions of it: SuperSearch and Record Detective. You do not have to be logged in to have the Record Detective search for you, time and time again, automatically for weeks and weeks in the future, always looking for newly-entered information. (See )

    A large collection of records from various European and North American countries.

    The ability to use the web site in any of 42 different languages. You can see the list of supported languages at

    One of the better worldwide newspaper collections. I don’t know if it is THE BEST or not, but it certainly is ONE of the best. I suspect it is THE BEST when it comes to foreign language newspapers.

    Thousands of genealogy books that have been digitized and are searchable for every word in each book.

    “Instant Discoveries” searches quickly as you enter data. This is beneficial primarily to new users and to new genealogists. It is not as useful for those who have used the service for some time. In short, it is a great way to get started.

    DNA testing with the easiest-to-read-and-understand reports I have seen.

    Facial recognition software that compares photos you upload with other photos. (Admittedly, I haven’t used that feature very much myself, but I have heard great things about it from other users.)

    You can use MyHeritage in a web browser, with a tablet computer, with most all “smartphones,” as well as from the FREE Family Builder software you can install in a Windows or Macintosh system. It is easy to keep all of your devices in sync.

    And, oh yes, I also like MyHeritage because the company sponsors this newsletter! (smile)


As a 78 year old retired 2nd grade teacher I remember helping nudge our school district into understanding that the 6 year old could learn computer stuff….instead of limiting that to High School… isn’t it amazing how the attitudes have changed….


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