Monday, March 29, 2010

Will Desktops Become Obsolete?

I have recently seen an article claiming that desktops will become obsolete in a few years. Obviously, the mobile screen is the latest battleground in high tech, seen by many as a chance to finally dethrone Microsoft from its stronghold on the desktop market after almost 30 years of dominance.

I don’t quite agree with this assertion. I believe that computer tasks fall into three main categories:

1.Authoring – this is the original creation of information by a human, typically done by a desktop application such as Office, Photoshop, AutoCAD, Eclipse, etc. These tasks usually involve expertise and creativity and the trend so far has been towards emerging experience leveraging the largest possible screen – just think of the laptops with a 17” screen.

2.Participating – this is any task that involves any step in a business process, structured or unstructured. Users here are approving, submitting, initiating, or reviewing information previously created or they create small amounts of original information - e.g. comments, markups, social media interactions or microblog entries fall into this category. Submitting a video on YouTube falls into this category of tasks as the initial authoring requiring creativity and expertise occurred when you operated the camera.

3.Consuming – these are the tasks related to receiving and using the information in its final form. The information can be received via a variety of channels ranging from print, online experience, streaming media, to mobile devices, etc.

Mobile devices have been successfully replacing desktops for a while for the consuming tasks and the new breed of smart devices and applications have now successfully shifted the participating tasks onto a mobile device too. That said I remain skeptical about our ability or willingness to move many of the authoring tasks to a mobile screen and keyboard. Sure we can author e-mails, although most users write only short ones on their BlackBerry, while the longer ones usually have to wait until you get to your laptop.

But wait, you might say. How about a plug-in keyboard and a monitor/projector screen for a mobile device? Well, we will see. First, if you have to plug in a mouse, keyboard and a monitor/projector into a docking station you lose mobility. And yes, maybe we really move away from keyboard entry towards speech recognition and mouse and keyboard become obsolete. But for now, I don’t see any Photoshop artists or AutoCAD designers abandoning their Macs and workstations.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Era of Mobile Applications

The idea of mobile applications is not new. Back in 2000, when paging and AvantGo were the rage, I was in charge of an enterprise mobile solution based on standards such as WAP, C-HTML and XHTML. It was a flop. The problem back then was that the PDAs were not connected, while the mobile phones had too small of a screen to be of any use. That has since changed and the current smartphones are perfect candidates for mobile business applications.

The applications themselves are changing too. For many years, the killer app for enterprise mobility was e-mail. This is what propelled RIM to their present stronghold on the enterprise smartphone market. And so many mobile applications were based on using e-mail messages for workflow approvals. But these were not really mobile applications but rather mobile extensions of enterprise applications.
The other group of apps was used to provide mobile access to content, usually content originally created for the non-mobile experience. This approach was and still is painfully slow, it consumed a ton of bandwidth which causes outrageous charges for data roaming and it faced challenges related to format incompatibilities such as the current raging battle over Flash support between Apple and Adobe. Again, these were not mobile applications but rather remote access to enterprise applications.

The new era of mobile apps is different. Cryptic e-mail messages with no context and browser based access to enterprise applications does not cut it. Never did. The new mobile applications are focused on productivity which means that they are bandwidth optimized, they are purpose-designed for the mobile OS rather than browser based, and they leverage the ample on-board memory to add the context required to be productive. Finally, they are not just a microscopic version of an application designed for the desktop but rather provide a compelling and practical user experience by redefining the task at hand into discrete steps that can be easily completed on a mobile screen.

Take a mobile invoice processing application as an example. The old way to do this was to receive an email request for approval with some basic information formatted for the big screen and thus unusable. It was easier and faster to wait and complete this action back at the office from your desktop. The new kind of application resides on the mobile device; it can download all relevant documents to the device’s memory to provide the full context to ensure that due diligence is possible when processing a required action; and it has a user interface that has been designed for this particular business process. Now that’s what I call mobile productivity!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting Started

Yes, I am a technology fan. I love gadgets, I don’t keep any paper and I hate voice mails (especially the long ones). I have embraced social media a couple of years ago and I have a pretty active life on LinkedIn, Facebook, Xing, and Twitter. But just like many others, I have been procrastinated on blogging for all the different reasons. I was shy to voice my thoughts publicly, I was concerned to disclose something confidential, and I was simply busy. Well, while all those challenges are not magically gone, I feel the urge to at least occasionally speak up. And so here is my blog.

I will be saying things the way I see them and not necessarily the way my employer does. Sometimes, I will say things that you might disagree with which is what I do in the real life. And I will try to be less busy, or at least use that excuse less. The bottom line is that the 140 characters I get on Twitter are simply not enough.

Not being a native English speaker, I am not particularly concerned about my grammar on this blog. Please excuse any mistakes or typos.

Feel free to contact me via Twitter or LinkedIn if you have any comment or questions. Or you can send me an e-mail the old fashioned way ;-)