With the benefits of cloud, businesses are looking to tablets as the perfect connection between the laptop and the smartphone. But can applications really be designed to be transferable across multiple devices, and more importantly, should we even want them to be? Magic Software’s David Akka explains why the tablet revolution still poses a series of questions for the enterprise.
Taking stock of the tablet boom
David Akka, Magic Software
Apple boss Tim Cook recently commented that the iPad “is on a trajectory that is off the charts”, and it does seem that tablets are at the forefront of a new era of mobility, offering users access to greater computing power anytime, anywhere.
However, with some commentators predicting that tablets will overtake the PC market in the near future, we should perhaps take a step back and consider that our devices should not be an either/ or choice. After all, smartphones, PCs and tablets all work in different ways – they all have their relative strengths and weaknesses, and are used to fulfil different requirements.
What must first be considered is how technology fits within the workplace, in the context of how employees are now using these different devices to fulfill different requirements. On one side, there are laptops and PCs, which are primarily designed for ‘heavy duty’ computing tasks in the office environment, thanks to their processing power, the large screen sizes, keyboards and mice, which provide the flexibility for users to move quickly between different screens and to input ‘heavy duty’ data.
However, as more employees work ‘on-the-move’, logging on to a laptop and starting it up can be seen as too laborious and time consuming and so mobile devices are most commonly used for shorter tasks, to quickly check for emails whilst running in between meetings. Mobile users, by nature, tend to have a shorter attention span than users of desktop applications, and users tend to require access when they are in a hurry and when time is of the essence. Tablets sit somewhere in the middle; whilst they offer more scope for data input and processing thanks to their larger screen size, their form factor means that they are also portable and so can easily be used in meetings. This means that, in each situation, the data being looked at, the length of time they are used and the levels of interaction by the user, are completely different.
The hype around tablets overtaking the PC market is largely created by hardware manufacturers wanting to drive sales for their new devices. Latest predictions are that tablet sales to end users will more than quadruple by 2015 and since there has been a significant uptake in the consumer market, the expectation is that the workplace will follow suit. There’s no denying that tablets have the power to fundamentally change the way we work and go about our daily lives, and fill the gap perfectly in between PCs and smartphones; however they should not be considered as a replacement for either and the contexts in which they are used. Enterprise mobility is all about having the flexibility to use different devices in different situations, for example: I will need my laptop to write this presentation; however I will use my iPad to present it in this meeting.
It’s within this context of choice that we must design applications and develop a suitable mobile strategy. First and foremost, it’s crucial to consider the user interface. What experience is a user expecting on that particular device? This means that taking an application from a PC and running it on a tablet is always a mistake, due to the relevance of data, different screen sizes, user expectations, user attention span and the situation in which it’s used.
Developers need to think not only about how to engineer processes to present data from different sources in the most logical way, but also how to use the inherent features of each device. For example, where there is no mouse or keyboard, mobile devices can offer GPS, compass, gyroscope, camera and voice capabilities which have unlocked a set of capabilities in applications that provide new value.
Ultimately, if we continue to think along the lines of one technology overtaking another, we will be thinking that the same functionality can be established across multi-devices, which cannot be the case. If we simply present the same information across different screen sizes, the adoption of enterprise-approved applications will be reduced, and employees will revert to downloading external apps to help them do their job better, which will be counter-productive to any enterprise mobile strategy.
In the end, enterprises will want their solutions to work on PCs, smartphones and on tablets, because each has its own uses and relevance in different situations. With an approach such as an application platform that supports multi-channels and multi-devices, organisations can abstract themselves from the complications of coding for multiple devices or creating a generic solution for all devices.
Such platforms contain pre-written coding functionality which allows developers to write once; the deployment to multiple devices is part of the platform’s underlying architecture that includes adjustments to utilise the different functionalities and approaches for desktop, smartphone and tablet users. This in turn means they can focus on presenting the right information to the right people at the right time, on the right device.
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