Written by: Joshua Greenbaum
The hundreds of millions of smart phones and tablets now in use across the world are harbingers of a revolution that goes well beyond what we think of as the mobile market today. The original mobile market, which as a mass-market phenomenon is already more than 20 years old, was about accessibility in an always-on, always-connected world. Wherever and whenever, mobile technology would keep us connected, first by voice, then via email, and now through social media. Mobile was a means to interact in real time with an increasingly interactive world.
As that vision has evolved to include smart phones and tablets, the appeal of the mobile market has moved well beyond that initial interaction-driven use case. As we race into the second decade of the 21st century, it’s clear that the mobile market has spawned an increasingly broader use case that is based on a unique set of user experiences. These user experiences promise to change our conceptions of what mobility is all about — and make it clear that a mobile experience isn’t the only thing consumers and the enterprise are looking for after all.
Three key trends have piggy-backed on the mobile revolution that have significantly changed how users inside and outside the enterprise consume technology: the rise of small, easy-to-use apps as the means by which software developers seek to embody business and consumer processes in technology, the rise of the online apps store as the place where developers go to sell their apps and their customers go to buy them, and the rise of the touch-based user experience as the predominant means by which users interact with technology.
What’s important to bear in mind about these three trends is that they are not necessarily predicated on being delivered on a device that is purely and uniquely mobile in nature. This is especially important for the enterprise, where a majority of business processes do not necessarily take place on the road or in the field, and where many processes require more user input than is possible on a tablet or smartphone. Indeed, even though tablet and smart phone sales surpassed PC sales over two years ago, there remain a significant amount of business processes that are best accomplished at something resembling a desk, using something that is much more akin to a PC than a phone or tablet. Whether it’s because the process requires using a real keyboard or mouse, or by having more workspace than is possible with a 9.7 inch screen – or both – it’s clear that no enterprise can run every aspect of its business on tablets and smart phones.
However retro that may seem to the smartphone and tablet crowd, as we move into this new world of enterprise apps, smartphones and tablets will still have something important in common with their desktop brethren: the touch experience. The smartphone and tablet have created an expectation for a touch experience that will revolutionize the enterprise and its desk-bound business processes and their users. The users of these processes – many of whom work with the time-honored back-office ERP domains of finance, human resources, and asset and resource management – all have smart phones and tablets. And many of them already are catching themselves with increasing frequency trying to reach out and touch non-touch enabled screens in the course of doing their work. The familiarity and usability of touch are just that compelling.
This makes the rise of touch an important outgrowth of the BYOD phenomenon, and perhaps its most significant result. Those business users reaching subconsciously for their touch screens will pull touch into the enterprise desktop experience the same way they succeeded in pulling smartphones and tablets into the enterprise. Which was no different than the graphical user experience revolution of the 1980s: the green screen user experience began to look ancient the moment users became familiar with the much more usable and effective GUI experience, and a wholesale redesign of enterprise software was underway.
What will be different is that the touch-based revolution isn’t going to result in a wholesale rewriting of the enterprise back office, at least not yet. Thanks to huge improvements in web services and application interface design, the user experience of legacy enterprise applications can readily be reengineered for touch. Meanwhile the white space in the enterprise – the functional areas where enterprise software has yet to conquer – will be filled by a combination of desktop and mobile-based apps. Touch, not mobility, will be the common denominator. And they’ll be available in an apps store as well.
Soon after that we will be seeing a new class of app – the hybrid mobile/desktop app – that will offer both user experiences, depending on whether the particular function within the process needs to be fulfilled using a mobile device or a desktop device. The artificial distinction between apps that largely display information and those that largely create it – the divide that Apple created when it launched the iPad, and made it distinct from the Mac – will disappear. Operating systems like Windows 8 will allow developers to create apps that cover both desktop and mobile requirements – creation and consumption – without having to create two entirely different apps on two entirely different code bases.
At which point the mobile revolution will go the way of all successful revolutions, replaced by a ubiquity that makes mobile and, more importantly, touch, less a distinguishing characteristic and more the basic table stakes for innovation and new functionality. The enterprise worker – whether tethered to a desk or roaming the world – will be all the more productive for it. Until the next revolution comes to show us how relatively unproductive we’ve once again become.
Post originally written for Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/microsoftdynamics/2013/03/08/the-real-mobile-revolution-isnt-about-mobility/