Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Consolidation of Personal Technology

How many pockets do you have? I find on a daily basis this limitation more than any other determines which devices I bring with me when I travel. I have an iPhone for work and an Android for home, an iPad tablet for easy stuff like blogging and movies, and two laptops (one work, one home) for the heavy lifting. The end result is often pockets stuffed with stuff along with a backpack that is slowly turning me into a hunchback. Cables and cords, power bricks and cases. Consolidation is what I want but I don't want to lose capabilities. There is an answer but so far no solutions.

A smartphone is the no-brainer minimalist choice when you have a pocket or none. With technologies such as dual persona the need to bring two devices will fade away quickly. It's a juggernaut that every Fortune 500 company is reacting to and enabling in some form either today or planned for tomorrow. Add to this the electronic wallet, car keys, and even your house keys which are all being app enables and will become increasingly common over the next three years. Finally with all of this moving to off the device and into the cloud, along with media and documents, there is little doubt the smartphone becomes the one stop access shop in our lives. Oh but for that small screen...

Enter the tablet; clearly the next step up from the smartphone. In many cases the only difference between the smartphone and the tablet is the screen size (especially with the ability to Skype and make VoIP calls from the tablet). With the touch screen the need for a mouse disappears leaving the clunky on screen "hint and peck" keyboard, device connectivity (USB, card readers, eSATA, HDMI, etc), application familiarity, and speed as the only deterrents to replacing the PC. However improved near field communications and the expanding array of connected devices will make the device connectivity issue disappear; devices will go wireless. To resolve the keyboard conundrum there are tablet cases with integrated Bluetooth keyboards that are as well designed as the best desktop keyboard (excluding ergonomics). Like the Smartphone the power of the tablet comes from its connectivity to the cloud. Well that leaves only two unaddressed issues: traditional applications and speed.

Change is challenging. No matter how open our minds are we are the composite of our experiences, and as such what we have done is often more comfortable than what we are being asked to do. People largely want the applications to which they have become accustomed which in turn perpetuates the buy-upgrade-replace model of PC's. What has kept many of these applications from transitioning directly into the tablet world is bloat. The applications were built and grew in a world where the resources of the PC were greater than the need of the application. As a result of the available headroom application developers implemented more features and functions, often of limited or dubious value, to differentiate their solution in the market. The resources required by many desktops applications today far exceed the capabilities of the tablet. As a result tablet developers have reinvented the application. Called "apps" these lightweight applications are designed to the constraints of the tablet device. As a result new innovations have entered the market faster, such as cloud storage and sharing, and the number of people for whom the apps are good enough is large and growing. However there will always be a segment of the population who either by need or choice will need a PC.

Today when people think of a PC they think of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and box/processor/CPU/computer (that thing to which everything connects). In our bold, new world the PC no longer is a physical set of devices. The tablet can be the monitor, the mouse, and the keyboard with either the on screen version or an external device. But what about that box? Enter the cloud desktop.

There are very few options available in the market today for consumers which is interesting given the growth of virtual desktops in the cloud for the enterprise. The concept is simple. Using cloud infrastructure provide the user a full PC desktop from the operating system upward accessible via the tablet device. To the end user its a PC; install and execute applications just like old physical PC. For the majority of PC owners its all you'll ever need until the tablet becomes the full time replacement. The benefits are tremendous:
1. monthly expense well below the monthly cost of purchasing a desktop of equal capability
2. no need to upgrade
3. the user owns the data and can take it and discontinue the service at any time
4. improved security
5. no exposure to hardware or operating system issues
6. no operating system updates

In addition some solutions include applications such as Microsoft Office. One option, although limited but worth checking out, is OnLive Desktop.

I was asked my opinion on an employer adopting a BYOD approach for laptops where the employee provides the device. As someone who travels a lot the last thing I want is to provide the laptop and take all the cost and risk: purchase, maintenance, theft, breakage. And this after the recent 60 Minutes report on TSA theft? No thanks! What I would prefer is a virtual desktop accessible via my tablet with a portable keyboard. Now that's a powerful combination even for someone who does quite a bit of content creation. I write this blog now on my tablet using just the soft keyboard.

Consolidating to the smartphone and tablet, powered by a cloud which provides all the features and functions needed, establishes a platform for future consolidation. In the future we'll be adding the set-top box, security system, game console, medical device and vehicle to the cloud. One cloud, many uses, accessed by the method of your choice.

I'm looking forward to it!