There is no 'mobile' anymore

Summary:Seeking a mobile solution puts up an artificial technical barrier to what you're trying to do. It's time to stop thinking about "mobile" as something special.

No mobile
There is no "mobile".

Do you remember a time before we used to talk about "mobile"?

In reality, it's only been a few years. You don't actually have to go back that far to find a world where mobile was unusual, where the only way normal people got the internet was through a PC that was physically wired into the network. First we got Wi-Fi, then we got cellular data, but mobile was always distinct, always secondary.

Now we're operating in a world where there is no distinction. Plus it's not like mobile has "taken over" and normal desktop computing is in second place. What we're seeing is a world where a connected device is a connected device, regardless of its classification.

Differences

The difference between a non-mobile device and a mobile device is that a mobile device is one where it can be used whilst you're moving, whereas a non-mobile device is one that can be moved from place to place. This is primarily about utility. When you need to interact with a non-mobile device, you have to go through a set-up process, sit down in front of it, and start your activity.

What people want when they engage with mobile is to be able to access their data, and reach out to people in their social networks, without having to go through this specialised set-up process.

If we're particularly looking at enterprise use, a user may choose to use mobile over non-mobile for a number of reasons. For one, it may not be easy to set-up a laptop where they happen to be in space and time -- e.g. a parent dropping their kids off to school replies to an email whilst waiting around. Or, it may just be more of a hassle than what it's worth -- e.g. having a quick look at whereabouts in the city their meeting the next day happens to be during an ad break in a favourite TV show.

In these examples, there is no clear delineation between a "mobile" and "non-mobile" task. What we're looking at is choice in how something is done. The fact that we now use operating systems and form factors that are new is simply an accident. Has Microsoft moved faster into the mobile space, beating Apple and Google, we would have been using Windows as a primary mobile OS too, rather than what we have today where we have this split of operating system use that follows the split of form factor.

Unhelpful

In business what we have today is that people tend to say "We need a Mobile strategy". In that statement, "Mobile" is very much though of as having an upper-case "M".

This is an unhelpful approach. Thinking about "Mobile" (as opposed to "mobile") tends to focus the discussion around technology, whereas it's important when thinking about post-PC to think about the sociological angles first.

What users want is systems that are flexible and allow anytime, anyplace, anywhere working.

There's all sorts of reasons why it's helpful for certain types of professionals to be able to reply to emails whilst dropping their kids off at school. This is after all why BlackBerry became a successful business. The most obvious one is that it allows the user to do something then and there, getting it off their radar, rather than having these trivial "I wonder if…" and "I need to…" tasks gumming up their brains.

BlackBerry is very interesting here because within the enterprise they solved this problem ahead of anyone. BlackBerry invented business-oriented post-PC way before Apple  did, simply through this ability to open up access to company systems to certain types of individuals. Specifically, the company system that they opened up was email, seconded by scheduling, and contacts.

What BlackBerry actually did was hit the only really obvious part of "mobile" when it comes to enterprise. If you talk to people who want to take advantage of BYOD, or want their employer to buy them a smartphone and/or tablet, as soon as you have email, scheduling, contacts, and web browsing covered, you have largely done everything that the user wants.

This is part of where thinking about "Mobile" gets stuck. Within the business sphere, there isn't really that much to do other than those basic things. If you focus on "Mobile", all you do is fiddle around the edge of that basic problem.

Alternatives

So if you're a CTO/CIO and you're in the mood for invention and innovation in the mobile space, what do you do?

If you think about "Mobile" as opposed to "mobile", you're going to look at what can be done with the technology. Moreover, you're going to look at what is safe (i.e. what your peers manage to make work), and you're going to respond to what you're being asked (e.g. "I want to reply to emails when I'm dropping the kids off at school.")

If you think about "mobile" as opposed to "Mobile", you're still in danger, as you'll be putting the cart before the horse. "Which opportunities can be delivered best through a smartphone?" is something you may ask.

Asking the question in that way puts up an artificial technical barrier to what you're trying to do. The end user doesn't care if they are mobile or not mobile when they're using what you're provided. What they do care about is that it becomes a tool that fits in with everything else that they have going on.

Perhaps one day that tool is one that they'll want to use in the office at a PC. The next day they might want to use it on a laptop at home. The day after they'll want to access it via their smartphone on a train.

Another danger here is in how businesses buy systems. Going out into the market and asking for "mobile" narrows your options. What users want is systems that are flexible and allow anytime, anyplace, anywhere working. What you need to ask for is systems that offer that flexibility.

The trick with this is to simply ignore "mobile" as a thing -- simply don't think of mobile devices as anything special.

After all, there is no "mobile".

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Mobility

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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