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!