Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category
In this article from the Wall Street Journal, author Christopher Mims quotes mobile analytics company Flurry’s data that 86% of our time on mobile devices are spent in apps, and just 14% is spent on the web. While Christopher’s article laments that this is the “death of the web”, I’d like to put a different spin on this. We are now entering the age of what I call the “micro-UI”.
The micro-UI represents a shift toward very targeted user experiences focused on a much smaller set of capabilities. A phrase I’ve used is that we are now bringing the work to the user, rather than bringing the user to the work. It used to be that you only had access to a screen when you were in the den of your house with the desk with the built-in cabinet for your “tower” (why do they still sell those?) with a wired connection to your dialup modem, or your computer on your desk at work. Clearly, that’s no longer the case with smart phones, tablets, appliances, your car, and many more things with the capability to dynamically interact with you. I just saw rumors today about the screen resolution of the new Apple Watch, and I think it has higher resolution than my original Palm Pilot back in the late 90’s. On top of that, there are plenty of additional devices that can indirectly interact through low power bluetooth or other tethering techniques.
In this new era, the focus will be on efficiency. Why do I use an app on my phone instead of going to the mobile web site? Because it’s more efficient. Why do notifications now allow primitive actions without having to launch the app? Because it’s more efficient. It wouldn’t surprise me to even see notifications without the app in the future.
For example, how many of you have come home to the post-it on your door saying “FedEx was unable to deliver your package because a signature is required.” Wouldn’t it be great to get a notification on your phone instead that asks for approval before the driver leaves with your package in tow? But do you really want to have to install a FedEx app that you probably will never open? Why can’t we embed a lightweight UI in the notification message itself?
In the enterprise, there are more hurdles to overcome, but that should be no surprise. First, the enterprise is still filled with silos. If it were up to me, I would ban the use of the term “application” for anything other than referring to a user interface. Unfortunately, we’ve spent 30+ years buying “applications,” building silos around them, and dealing with the challenges it creates. If you haven’t already, you need to just put that aside and build everything from here on out with the expectation that it will participate in a highly connected, highly integrated world where trying to draw boundaries around them is a fruitless exercise. This means service-based architectures and context-launchable UIs (i.e. bring the user to the exact point in the user interface to accomplish the task at hand). Secondly, we need to find the right balance between corporate security and convenience. All of this era of connected devices rely on the open internet, but that doesn’t work very well with the closed intranet. Fortunately, I’m an optimist, so I’m confident that we’ll find a way through this. There are simply too many productivity gains possible for it not to happen.
I believe all of this is a good thing. I think this will lead to new and better user experiences, which is really what’s most important. Unlike Christopher’s article, I don’t see this as the death of the web, as without the web as the backing store for all of this information, none of this would be possible. It is a reduction in the use of a browser-based UI, and he’s correct that there are some good things about the web (e.g. linking) that need to be adapted (app linking and switching) to the mobile ecosystem. On the other hand, however, this increased connectivity present opportunities for higher productivity. Apple (e.g. Continuity), Google, Microsoft, and others are all over this.
Amazon released their HTML5 Kindle reader this week, and I couldn’t keep myself from commenting on all of the talk of people saying/hoping/proclaiming that this was the beginning of the end for apps and Apple’s AppStore.
I think it’s great that Amazon has released the HTML5 version of the Kindle reader, complete with integration into the Amazon Kindle store. I don’t see Amazon pulling their Kindle app from the app store though, and I think there would probably be a big revolt if they did.
It seems that a lot of the pundits out there think that all of the developers out there are just waiting to jump on a single technology that will support any device, anywhere. For developers that aren’t making any money on their products, that may be the case. I’m willing to bet that the lack of profits has less to do with having multiple code bases to maintain and more to do with the app just not being popular enough.
But all of this isn’t even my main point. To me, the thing that drives it all is customer experience. When the iPhone first came out, everything was Mobile Web. Apple then backtracked, and came out with the App Store. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single App that had a mobile web or iPhone-optimized web experience that was on par with the native apps that were created. Granted, part of that was due to Edge connectivity, but the real thing is that it was all about my experience as a customer. While HTML5 is very powerful, I still don’t believe that it is going to be able to provide the same level of experience that a native application can. Yes, it can work offline and utilize local storage to make it as app-like as possible, but it’s still based on an approach that’s more about a connected, browser-server paradigm.
There will be classes of applications for which HTML5 will be just fine. I’m willing to bet many of them will be replacements for applications that are already free in the app stores. That’s an optimization for the development team, since revenues are clearly coming from another source, whether it be advertising or eCommerce. For paid applications, though, customers are paying for the experience, and if the experience isn’t as optimized as possible, there are way too many alternatives out there.
All we need to do is look back at history to know that Apps are here to stay. Java did not result in companies dropping proprietary development languages for Windows, Mac, or Linux platforms. Yes, some cross-platform products did arrive and continue to thrive, but there’s still a thriving marketplace for native applications on the major desktop platforms. Will we see many mobile applications solely available via HTML5? Absolutely, but the native app store for iOS and Android will continue to thrive.
Presenter: William Clark
I’m looking forward to this talk, as it’s a new area for me. I don’t remember who told me this, but the key to getting something out of a conference is go to sessions where you have the opportunity to learn something, and you’re interested in the subject. That’s why I’m avoiding sessions on establishing enterprise technology architects. I’ve been doing that for the past 5 years, so the chances are far less that I’m going to learn something new than in a session like this one, where it’s an emerging space and I know it’s something that is going to be more and more important in my work in the next few years. The only downside is I’m now on my fourth day in Orlando which is starting to surpass my tolerance limit for sitting and listening to presentations.
He’s started out by showing that the thing missing from the digital experience today is “me.” By me, he implies the context of why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, such as “where am I,” “what have I done,” “who are you talking to,” etc. He points out the importance of user experience in the success and failures of projects, especially now in the mobile space.
Some challenges he calls out with incorporating context into our systems:
- Blending of personal contexts and business contexts. For example, just think of how your personal calendar(s) may overlap with your business calendar.
- Managing Technical Contexts: What device are you using, what network are you connecting from, etc. and what are the associated technical capabilities available at that point?
- Context timing: The context is always in a state of flux. Do I try to predict near-term changes to the context, do I try to capture the current context, or do I leverage the near-past context (or even longer) in what is shown?
It’s always a sign of a good presentation when they anticipate questions an audience might ask. I was just about to write down a question asking him if he thinks that a marketplace for context delivery will show up, and he started talking about exactly that. This is a really interesting space, because there’s historical context that can be captured and saved, and there’s an expense associated with that, so it makes sense that the information broker market that currently selling marketing lists, etc. will expand to become on-demand context providers with B2B style integrations.
All in all, I see this space with parallels to the early days of business intelligence. The early adopters are out there, trying to figure out what the most valuable areas of “context” are. Unlike BI, there are so many technology changes going on that are introducing new paradigms, like location aware context with cellphones, there’s even more uncertainty. I asked a question wondering how long it will be before some “safe” areas have been established for companies to begin leveraging this, but his answer was that there are many dimensions contributing to that tipping point, so it’s very hard to make any predictions.
This was a good presentation. I think he gave a good sampling of the different data points that go into context, some of the challenges associated with it, and the technical dynamics driving it. It’s safe to say that we’re not at the point where we should be recommending significant investments in this, but we are at the point where we should be doing some early research to determine where we can leverage context in our solutions and subsequently make sound investment decisions.
Presenter: Dr. Andrew Lippman from MIT’s Media Laboratory
Dr. Lippman came and talked to us about MIT Media Lab in a keynote this morning. He was an excellent speaker. Most of the talk was focused on how technology can contribute to the increasingly social nature of our society. While we increasingly have more and more personal technology, the usefulness of that technology will largely depend on its ability to focus on the “we” rather than on “me.” A great point that he made is that a company’s value is in its social network- the speed with which the values and ideas flow through the company. Again, the degree to which technology supports that is a key element. Excellent talk.
Presenter: Nick Jones
This session was a well-presented, broad overview of the web application space. Near the end, Nick touched a bit on choosing architecture for mobile applications, which gets into the decision on developing for the web, sacrificing some capabilities and usability, versus developing for a device, which provides more capabilities, but also introduces additional challenges given the average lifetime of a mobile device, let alone the broad number of devices and platforms available. It’s a bit disappointing that it wasn’t more broadly attended, although I think that part of the problem was that the session was targeted at Mobile Web 2.0, rather than on the decisions between writing a device or OS specific mobile application versus a mobile web application. There’s no doubt that more and more companies are going to start thinking more about how to leverage and support mobile access, so I expect that attendance will be increasing in these sessions in the next year or two, especially if we get a 3G iPhone in the next 30 minutes or so…
I’m listening to Jon Udell’s latest innovator conversation, this time with Valdis Krebs, courtesy of IT Conversations. Valdis is a researcher in the area of social networks and he and Jon are discussing sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, MySpace, etc. One of the interesting points that Valdis makes is that social networking has always been a peer-to-peer process. Two people engage in some form of personal, direct communication to form a “connection.” This is predominant form of building a network, rather than joining a club. The model of virtually all the social networking sites is one of “joining”.
The discussion brought me back to the late 90’s when I had purchased a PalmPilot. I actually owned one that had the U.S. Robotics logo on it versus the 3Com or Palm logos that came later. One of the features that came along later (I think it was when I upgraded to a Handspring device) was the ability to “beam” contact information to other Palm owners. The goal was to do away with business cards and instead “beam” information electronically. While I thought the technology was pretty cool, it didn’t survive because the PDA didn’t survive. It all got morphed into mobile device technology, and with the multitude of devices out there now, the ability to quickly share information between two devices disappeared.
I think this would be a great technology to bring back. I attended a conference back in December, and of course walked away with a number of business cards. I then had to take the time to put those contacts into my address book. Thankfully, as an iPhone owner, I only had to put them in one place for my personal devices, but I also had to enter them into my contacts on my work PC. Then became the step of adding all of these people to my networks on LinkedIn (at a minimum). I actually didn’t do this, most of the people actually had already sent me requests for the various social networks.
In thinking about this, I have to admit that this was way too difficult. What we need is the ability to share contact information electronically with our handheld devices via some short range networking technology like Bluetooth, and have that electronic information be “social network aware” so that as a result of the exchange, contacts are automatically added to friends/contact lists on all social networks that the two parties in common. It should be an automatic add, rather than a trigger of email to each party of “do you want to add this person to your network?” An option would be to ask that question on the device at the time of the interchange, which would allow people to be added to appropriate networks as is supported by sites like Plaxo Pulse.
So, for all of you involved with social networking technology, here’s your idea to go run with and make it happen. I’ll be a happy consumer when it becomes a reality.
Richard Monson-Haefel announced an upcoming telebriefing from the Burton Group that will ask the question, “Is the iPhone ready for the Enterprise?” I think this is going to be a very interesting discussion, and hopefully Richard will post a summary of the discussion after the fact for those of us that aren’t able to listen. It should be a great conversation, as they’re bringing analysts in from various services for the discussion.
Interestingly, with all of this talk about the iPhone and the enterprise, I actually think we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about the iPhone, rather, it’s about how connected, mobile devices should be leveraged in the enterprise. Certainly, there are plenty of industries where mobile devices already play a key role. Just look at the technology associated with any company in the logistics industry for examples. The real discussion, however, is for those industries where the use of connected, mobile devices may not be immediately apparent. There are many enterprises that still have desktop machines for all employees and are just beginning to look at whether laptops should be issued, let alone consider something like the iPhone. Therefore, there is potential for a disruption in this space, something that could have a fundamental difference in how we go about our tasks.
The reason this discussion is gaining such momentum now, in my opinion, has everything to do with the full-browser capabilities of the iPhone. While I didn’t own a smartphone before getting an iPhone, I did have some experience with a Blackberry (before they had phone capabilities), and made extensive use of the WAP browser on my old Motorola V360. Email and access from the Blackberry was great, but that’s about it. Now, we’ve got this full web browser that can run a variety of web based applications (although not all, my kids can’t play with Webkinz on it due to no Flash, which is probably a good thing, at least as far as playing Webkinz goes). There’s a whole range of applications out there, as Richard calls out, the real potential is in applications developed specifically for the iPhone. Is this any better than some of the custom apps for one of the other smart phones? I’ve never written a mobile app, and I don’t know what limitations they have when the phone doesn’t have full web capabilities. I can only suspect that the recent hype on this subject is an indicator that only now have the doors really been opened. Connectivity is critical to these devices, otherwise they just become a PDA, which has certainly faded away. The question is whether connectivity + small form factor equals disruption. While I use the iPhone Facebook application, I’d hardly call it disruptive. There’s a killer app out there waiting to be written.
While I’m sure the conversation will focus more on the technical details around the iPhone in the enterprise, hopefully it will expand into the potential for mobile devices in the enterprise, whether it’s through a laptop with WiFi or wireless broadband or an device like the iPhone. Ultimately, this is what will decide whether it gets a place in the enterprise versus just being yet another way of getting to the corporate email and calendar.