Mobility Going Forward: One Device to Rule Them All
Back in January we held a competition, inviting clients to submit photos of mobile workers in extreme environments. We received many awe-inspiring shots from around the globe of men and women working at risk, though often supported by innovative mobile devices that facilitated the many and varied complex tasks they accomplish on a daily basis. We include a few here as tribute to their dedication.
Fire at Slave Lake, Alberta
Courtesy of Ledcor Group, Alberta, Canada
While as most of us don’t have to face these kind of conditions, the need for increased mobility in support and services affects more of us each day. Every day we witness a wider and wider range of functions and capabilities that not long ago were the makings of science fictions. Whether it’s buying groceries, sending documents, conducting bank transactions, sharing vacation moments with friends – you name it, there’s a device or an app that can handle it.
It wasn’t that long ago that this computer-driven reality didn’t exist. Our images of computing were something like a long-haired, bearded man, hunched over a desk, his fingers tapping away at a keyboard placed before a black screen: a nerd. The techies were shut-ins, their skin pasty, their hygiene not always the best. To work with computers meant, invariably, to work indoors – that was the way it had been since the time of those first multi-floor machines that could do math and break codes. Then, something happened.
Atop RF Network Tower
Courtesy of Ralph Josling, Altech Netstar, South Africa
We took our computers and decided that they would no longer be allowed to hold us in a cell. Rather, we would force them to go wherever we wanted to go – to the library, to the coffee shop, even to the park. The thing that happened was the laptop, and it was good. No longer would our computers tell us where we could and couldn’t go. Soon, we took this technology a step further, combining our computers with our phones and shrinking the screens so that they would fit comfortably in our pockets. Now, even more than going with us wherever we wanted to, our computers were starting to follows us whether we liked it or not.
Where was transportation in all this? As usual, it was in the background – pulling all the invisible strings. Consider this: we had made it so that everyone was just a screen away, and as our follow-up, we made it so that our screens were never bound to any one place. That is, after creating something that made mobility unnecessary, it was our first concern that mobility be preserved. What does this say about us?
Tornado at “D Island”, Gulf of Mexico
Courtesy of Pascal Sixdenier, BPA Equipment, Houston, USA
We demand to be free. Not later – now. If I want to travel somewhere at noon tomorrow, the time is just as important as the place, and what I’m really asking for is immediacy. See that bus stop over there? The bus comes in a half-hour. If I get there in forty-five minutes, I miss the bus. No two ways about it. Now, that is a particularly concrete example, but the principle stands. Ideal mobility is less about where we go and much, much more about when we go. Like everything else, ideal mobility takes as its model instant gratification: if I need to wait five minutes for your yellow taxi and two minutes for the other guy’s blue Honda, you better believe the other guy is the one who gets my money.
Let’s talk about Uber. According to The Business Insider, the company, darling of everyone who extols the virtues of the tech revolution, was most recently valued at $18 billion (1). $18 billion, man, and the company is still in its early childhood. There is only one rational conclusion here and it is that the people over at Uber are onto something. They saw a need, and they filled it. The entire industry is still feeling the ripples from the wave that this caused, and what was already an unpredictable landscape is less certain than it has ever been.
Courtesy of Thomas Kenny
Si Chuan ECI-Metro Engineering – CAT, Kunming, China
Regardless of how governments chooses to regulate (or not) Uber going forward, the mark has already been made. Innovations in mobility, from now on, will center around tech. The question is no longer an amorphous one, such as How do we get people to buy more cars? The question has become How do we weave this into their computers? Again taking Uber and Lyft as examples of this trend, the fronts where this war is being fought become clear: user-friendliness, popularity, and scalability.
Now, it is fine to judge our mobile devices on these technical grounds, but your average consumer isn’t weighing technicalities as he makes a purchase. Rather, he considers one thing above all: convenience. Convenience was, for a long time, relatively static, and gains and edges, whenever won, were small, more trophies than game-changers. As we have put a phone in every pocket, however, we have made convenience the chief consideration in many ways. As Michele Chubirka puts it in Dark Reading, “Users don’t want to think about the ‘how’ of technology, they just want something familiar or comfortable that helps them get their work done.” We couldn’t agree more. In the area of mobile workforce management, we try to make sure that we offer the kind of mobility support that enhances rather than encumbers mobile enterprise services.
Stated another way, end-users’ greatest concern is ease of use, and every other issue is something for the developers to take care of, before the product ever even hits the shelves. This creates an interesting situation, one that was ideal for creating the smartphone and one that is also ideal for the amplification of the same concepts that led to it – miniaturization, simplification, and integration.
While the world of mobility has created ample opportunity for growth, it tends also to centralize things, leaving little room for the big profit margins to which the companies of yesteryear had become accustomed. Thus, we threw out our old habits in favor of something more portable, something more in tune with our on-the-go lifestyles. There must be an important lesson here too: something about a tendency toward singularity – that is, our desire to take everything that we do and put it into a single box – each thing to be separated from the box only when absolutely necessary. Rather than fight the trend, ClickSoftware prefers to embraces it, as in our new Timesheets App, which allows a mobile worker to manage all his timesheet activities from his mobile device.
These are little lessons, to be sure, but to see the big picture here, it’s crucial that we go back to that old king: convenience. Smartphones and their MP3s didn’t necessarily outplay the CD: they just took what it was already doing and packaged it with a bunch of other things that people love, like e-mail and digital cameras. Remember the Walkman? Music had gone mobile years before the iPhone came out, and still, when the two went head-to-head, it wasn’t much of a contest. Convenience in mobility, then, is fleshed out not by degrees of mobility but by how comprehensive a mobile device is.
Realizing this, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that the smartphone could itself one day be displaced by a device that combines all the utility of a smartphone with a handheld microwave. It makes little sense, after all, to forego mobile food and mobile video games in favor of the mobile video games alone, if one is given the option. Right now the world is still taken with the smartphone, but as time has shown, people will grow tired of their toys. Today’s modern mobility means a phone and any program you could run on a computer, but tomorrow’s mobility could look very different, leaving all of our smartphones in the dust.
Satellite Tracking Station – Kabul, Afghanistan
Coutesy of Tim Hogan, DataPath Inc.
Do you have an idea of what tomorrow’s mobility will look like?