DevicesA few weeks back I made the claim that our current world of fragmented personal computing is not great for consumers.  In the 90’s we typically had one computer per home.  During the early 2000’s it started to be very common to have multiple computers per home.  And now, starting in the late 2000’s, we have evolved to rely on multiple computing devices per user, per home.

We talked earlier about why these devices are different.  This post focuses on how they are the same.

I think it would be true to say that for most users the OS, putting all cultural leanings aside, does not define their user experience.  It mostly gets in the way.  For most users, the OS is that thing that they install their apps onto.  In the same way that their browser is the internet, their apps are what really define their computing experience.  For some, the elegance of the  hardware is part of it. But for this discussion, it is irrelevant.  I think Apple proved my point about the apps with their iPhone.  Many may have bought it for it beauty. But in my opinion it, and Android, have been successful because they got the OS out of the way and gave you access to tons of apps.

Even the files on these devices, in the end user’s mind, are not accessed through the OS.  Their apps are the portals for accessing and modifying any files that might live on their devices.  I have helped countless people over the years with their computers.  I can attest that for most of those users, Word documents do not exist outside of Word and possibly their email system.  The concept of the file system is beyond them—as it probably should be.

For the average users, computing devices have largely been complex machinery that did one thing, give them access to their applications.   Now these applications, of course, satisfy a plethora of other needs.  But even those can be broken down to a few basic categories.

  • Apps for Entertainment/Consumption/Education: media players (for local and remote content), games, news apps, educational materials, media remotes, etc.
  • Apps for Communication: email, SIP, chat, etc.  Even cellular calls are just apps that require specialized hardware.
  • Apps for Creation/Productivity (typically generate and manipulate files): camera, office suite, blogging, video/audio/photo editing, etc.
  • Utilities: Administrative tools, antivirus.  These are typically power tools for more advanced users for changing things most users don’t care about.

There are many apps that reach across these boundaries, like the browser.  And within each app there are a range of tasks from simple to complex.  We find the same apps, in countless forms, across the various forms factors.  Their only difference, from one device to another, is that their interface and complexity have been adjusted appropriately for their intended form factor.

In summary, all these devices do the same thing.  They provide us ways to access and manipulate the same information and services in our lives though similar sets of applications.  They also help us communicate with the same people in our lives.  Therefore, these devices should be more unified in their approach to helping us simplify these activities.

Previous: Fragmented Personal Computing
Next: Unified Personal Computing – Applied

DevicesA ‘pocket sized’ computing device has been rooted in the imaginations of science fiction writers and readers for as long as I can remember.  These devices have done everything imaginable.  They have been communicators, navigators, medical diagnosticians, entertainers, locating beacons, mathematicians, knowledge repositories and I am sure there are countless other iterations that have existed over the years.  Science fiction has always been a hot bed of tech ideas.  And today’s smart phones and tablets are prime examples of ‘Life imitating art’.

However I feel that the big players may be missing the boat in some respects.  For the past few years, I have been analyzing the value of the various devices in this new fragmented world of personal computing.  As always, different users have different needs.  We are seeing many users throughout the world who feel their smart phones are sufficient.  Others have decided a tablet fits all of their needs.  But both of these users would probably find themselves, admittedly or not, squarely into the camp of ‘the consumer’ when it comes to the services available on these devices.  The content creators, while they may love their tablets and smart phones, typically still rely on a laptop or desktop computer to work on their craft (dual 24″ monitors are hard to compete with when it comes to doing actual work).

So what is it that limits these devices to being merely consumption devices?  They are those that would disagree with me who say these devices can do it all.  I have heard their arguments and examples in countless forms.  But in all honesty, their proofs come across to me as functional compromises to help justify owning the device.  In almost every instance, the larger screen, the physical keyboard and the mouse/trackball are still much more efficient for the task at hand.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I think these devices have their place and can be extremely useful and convenient for many tasks, both professional and casual.   And I have seen some creative apps that do a lot with limited controls.  However depending on what you do, these devices probably shouldn’t be a replacement for all your computing needs.

So let’s analyze what the limiting factors could be.  In all reality it doesn’t seem to be the processing power.  My current phone and tablet both have more processing power and similar storage to my desktop from eight or ten years ago.  I was pretty productive on that machine.  So when you consider the quad core devices that have come out recently or are coming out soon, the processing power is most than sufficient for a very large percent of the content creators out there.

So it’s not the power of the devices.  The logical option would be to blame it on the software, the OS and the apps.  I would say that in our current market, we would be partially correct.  But the software can easily, or quickly, be addressed—relatively speaking.  But fixing the software is definitely part of the solution (to be discussed later).

I think it’s obvious that the largest limitation is the form factor itself.  Some form factors, no matter how much we like them, just shouldn’t be used for some tasks.  You don’t use a Prius to haul a boat.  Which means the most efficient solution for now is to just buy multiple devices for each need.  But that option does not scale well for the majority of us.  Plus there are the added annoyances that arise from having to maintain multiple devices and their respective environments.

First you need to manage/install you favorite apps on all your different devices.  Remember installing Angry Birds on your new tablet only to realize you had to solve all those levels again?  Also, if you like to customize your experience, you now need to maintain that on each device.  And then there are the files.  To take advantage of all of your device’s strengths for the life-cycle of a particular file, you need to synchronize that file to all of those devices.  The cloud can help immensely here, but it still requires some level of expertise and knowledge to make it work smoothly.

So what is the solution?  Well I do see hints of many of the larger companies heading in the right direction.  But there are aspects of their published strategies that cause me some concern.  It may take them too long to get to where we need to be.  This may be an opportunity for a few of the smaller guys to make a name for themselves.

Next: Unified Personal Computing – Consumer’s Needs