Last time, we discussed that Windows 7 is bringing new levels of power, mobility, speed and control to business, making companies and their IT departments more productive, while at the same time simplifying the computing experience for the user.
This month, we’re especially interested in the mobility factor and how that ties in with the proliferation of mobile devices we are seeing in the workplace.
Mobile devices can dramatically improve the way we work—and the way we work together. They can give your employees virtually unlimited and instant access to information, to each other, to documents and to the applications (or apps, as the case may be) they need to get things done—anytime, anywhere, on any device.
Employees have been quick to recognize the potential of these devices and are eagerly adopting them for both personal and professional use, but many employers are not aware of the extent to which their employees are using these devices for work.
According to one recent study by Unisys and International Data Corp. (govtech.com), 95 percent of employees are using mobile devices they purchased themselves to accomplish work for their employers. They are integrating their personal IT assets with those of their employers in order to stay connected and get more done, and in many cases, they’re doing it without their employers’ knowledge.
As a result, many organizations, both private-sector and public, are failing to fully capitalize on the strengths of a mobile workforce. At the same time, they are unknowingly putting their IT assets and their data at risk.
Next month, we’ll discuss strategies for managing those mobile devices to your advantage, but for now, let’s take a look at the variety of devices at your disposal and consider what they have to offer.
Notebooks and Netbooks
Laptop computers are not news these days, but since 2008, they have constituted the majority of computing devices in use by American business. That share continues to grow, and it is no wonder, with prices continuing to decrease and the utility and power of these machines dramatically increasing.
Especially key to the power of the laptop is the unprecedented ease with which users can now gain connectivity to the Internet and their employers’ networks. Wi-Fi seems to be available for free almost everywhere we go, and for those who need connectivity outside the confines of restaurants, cafes or airport lounges, we now have a variety of wireless internet options (4G network cards, for example) that are both reliable and cost-effective.
But it is not just the Internet that has become a breeze to access. VPN access is now commonplace, and with the improved VPN support of Windows 7, users scarcely have to think about it.
Performance-wise, newer notebooks are also proving more than adequate for almost any business task, with quick (often dual-core) processors and plenty of RAM to crunch through the most sophisticated PowerPoint presentations and more. Hard drives are plenty big too, especially considering that most laptop users enjoy near constant connectivity with their organization’s servers, and transfer speeds that are adequate, if not always as blistering fast as we would like.
If you have spent 10 minutes in an office recently, you have noticed virtually everyone is using smart phones, virtually all the time. Of course, not all that usage is work-related, but according to a recent survey conducted by International Data Corp., a good deal of it is. IDC also estimates that the number of employees using smart phones for work will almost double from 2009 to 2014.
Smart phones have evolved well beyond their former status as mere communication devices and are fast becoming computing devices. Of course, they are heavily used for the expected tasks, like texting and emailing, but they are increasingly being used for more sophisticated purposes like collaboration, research and document composition, to name a few.
And with the multitude of developers contributing to an ever more diverse app marketplace, you can expect your employees will keep finding new ways to use these devices to get work done—ways the desktop PC could not even imagine. Who knows, we may even catch up with Japan, where smart phones are already being used to operate vending machines, purchase subway tickets and view architectural plans.
When tablet computers made their first appearance on the market several years back, they did not make much of an impression, but it looks like Bill Gates may have been correct when he predicted that tablet computers would one day outsell conventional computers. Of course, to Mr. Gates’ chagrin, most of those sleek machines will not be running Microsoft operating systems.
So far, the iPad owns the burgeoning tablet computer market. Apple walked away with a 95-percent share in the third quarter of 2010 (wsj.com), and industry analysts have been surprised to discover how enthusiastically the iPad has been adopted by the business world. Even Apple, when it introduced the first models, seemed to consider the iPad a consumer entertainment device, but business professionals quickly found serious, productivity-increasing uses for it.
In the words of futurist Daniel Burrus, “The iPad is a huge, huge business device.” Many find it a lighter, simpler, more truly portable alternative to the laptop, and its vastly superior battery life certainly enhances its appeal for traveling professionals. The mobility factor, however, is only one of the iPad’s unique virtues. Many have found its single, flat panel, fast wake-up times, and touch-screen interactivity make it a more effective tool for presentations and sales.
The iPad will soon face direct competition from the likes of Dell, Samsung, HP, Blackberry, Cisco and Avaya, some of whom will target the corporate market more directly with apps for functions like video conferencing built in. Apple is already planning to respond with a video conferencing feature of its own in the next iteration of the iPad, but it looks as though the Apple monopoly will soon be challenged.
A Few Caveats
Of course, mobile devices are not without their limitations. At this point, tablet computers and smart phones working alone do not offer the raw processing power necessary to handle some of the tasks that desktop and laptop users take for granted. And even mobile device devotees experience frustration when they need to print documents in remote locations or they struggle to find reliable Wi-Fi service. But solutions to such challenges are in the works, and we will discuss them in the coming months.
Software is the Key
The stunning success of the iPad and iPhone can be attributed largely to Apple’s approach to software. Rather than attempt to shoehorn its computer software into a cell phone or tablet computer, it built a new operating system from the ground up, specifically designed to perform in a small device and deliver a fun, rewarding user experience.
Just as important, Apple’s IOS platform was designed to attract developers. As a result, it has touched off a renaissance of software development and created an endless selection of fun, useful, and above all, affordable apps to entice consumers.
Apple is not entirely alone. Google’s Android platform has made a strong showing. Blackberry/RIM, H5/Palm, Nokia’s Symbia and WebOS have done a respectable job as well. It’s Microsoft, of all companies, that has been slowest to learn, cursed by its own success in the PC world and unable to make a swift transition to the mobile mentality. With the introduction of Windows 7 Phone, however, it appears that the PC giant is finally waking from its slumber.
You may be wondering, with all of these competing systems, should you be cautious as to which horse you put your money on? Are we in the early stages of a Beta vs. VHS conflict? That would be a logical concern, and it is likely that some of the current platforms will be extinct in a few years. But for a number of reasons, platform selection does not appear to be as critical as one might imagine.
For starters, mobile devices are not designed for long-term use. They cost less up front and are replaced as a matter of course every year or two, if not sooner. And in the new era of virtualized computing and networking, platform compatibility does not have to be the issue it once was. But…more on that in a future issue. iBi
Rod Roth is practice lead/consultant with Sedona Technologies’ Advanced Infrastructure Practice. Comments welcome at [email protected].