In 2011, mainstream means mobile

In 2011, mainstream means mobile

Summary: Instead of being the poor cousin, suddenly the mobile UI will be the bigger sibling that sets the standard for how other UIs behave, leaving desktop platforms looking more old-fashioned than ever, and setting new cultural challenges for enterprise application usage.


I'd like to run through each of the six predictions for enterprise computing in 2011 that I made last week in a little more depth. The first of the six predicted a "seismic shift" in attitudes to mobile clients: "Significant numbers of enterprise software vendors will upend their development priorities and develop for mobile first, desktop second."

The corollary of this prediction is that desktop interfaces will increasingly converge with mobile interfaces, because instead of being the poor cousin, suddenly the mobile UI will be the bigger sibling that sets the standard for how other UIs behave. That, of course, in turn will influence the relative positions of iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and other mobile platforms, and will further erode Apple's current leadership of the smartphone and tablet space.

I was idly browsing my twitter stream at the weekend when I noticed @jtaschek highlight a provocative blog post by Jean-Baptiste Soufron: In 2011, Apple will lose the smartphone and the tablet market to Android because they forgot about OSX ....

Soufron's hypothesis is that Apple's resurgence has a lot to do with its adoption of open source software as the foundation of its OSX operating system. And therefore its abandonment of open source with iOS on the iPhone and iPad is sowing the seeds of a downturn in its fortunes, challenged in the near future by the more open Android platform. The advantage of open source, he reminds us, is that you get to pool the resources of many great minds working on the same platform (it's a similar principle to the collective innovation that you get in multi-tenant cloud environments). "Apple ... will never be able to keep with the pace of innovation that is going on Open Platforms," he concludes.

What especially piqued my interest, however, was the assertion in the title that Apple "forgot about OSX." Not merely Soufron's explicit message about its open source foundation, but also in the implicit assertion that Apple is putting all its resources into capturing mobile platform market share with iOS, to the detriment of further developing OSX to keep pace.

How often in the past year have you reached out to a laptop or desktop screen to zoom, scroll or tap? How many times have you cursed the inability to transfer information you're working with on your office machine  (a set of web pages, a half-drafted document, an ongoing discussion) to your mobile device and vice-versa? Wouldn't you just love to make things happen on the screen with a gesture, just like you do when playing with Wii or Kinect? The UI innovation that's taking place on mobiles (and games consoles) will migrate to business laptops and desktops within the next release cycle of operating systems, but Apple's strategy is predicated on moving all of that to their iOS devices, so where does that leave OSX except up a dead-end alley?

So much for Apple. Enterprise software developers must avoid making the same mistake, of taking their eye off the desktop ball while learning the rules of playing in the mobile space. While it's going to be right to prioritize mobile development, the mass of users — especially business users — still do their core work sitting at desks, and any effective mobile-centered development strategy must still cater to the evolving needs of those users.

Of course, many office workers sit in front of older operating systems — in many corporations, most desktops are still running XP or Vista, with pockets of Windows 2000 more common than you'd think. Migrating people's working routines to embrace next-generation UI conventions such as touchscreen or gesture control will be a challenge, but at least if those conventions are already familiar from the smartphones and games consoles their families use at home, it will be less of a cognitive leap than some of the form-based interfaces they've had to learn for earlier technology generations.

It will take a while for the current crop of desktop operating systems to catch up with the mobile space, and by the time it does, most applications could look more sophisticated on mobile than they do in desktop browsers. Meanwhile, frontline workers will be among the earliest adopters of next-generation enterprise applications delivered to smartphones and tablets. This is going to be an important cultural shift for many organizations, where throughout the PC era, it's been the penpushers, analysts and managers who've had all the latest and greatest technology at their fingertips. We're entering a new era in which retail sales assistants, field service engineers and maintenance operatives are going to be first in line for the newest mobile devices, while the knowledge workers back in the office struggle on for the next few years with their superannuated Windows OSes and unresponsive flatscreens.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Software

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

    Couple of thoughts here.

    First, as long as the workstation remains the primary manner in which people at work interact electronically, a touchscreen will not be the preferred way to get things done. Being able to rest your arms on arm rests while typing avoids neck and back strain - having to lift my arms up and hold them up to manipulate a screen will cause problems.

    Second, although I'm no Apple fanboy (I don't use any Apple products currently), I chuckle at the thought that Apple "forgot" anything. I know tech pros who swear by Apple hardware while cursing Apple software (OS, iTunes...); however, Apple has that ability to make things work that no one else seems to know how to do (I'm a Palm OS 5 loyalist, and it's easy to admit that the term "revolutionize" is absolutely fitting for what iPhone has done to the smartphone space); and look how long "tablet" computers as an idea have been bandied about with no real traction until iPad comes along and boom - now it's the greatest thing since sliced bread; let's not forget how the music labels tripped over themselves trying to kill the idea of downloading music, now iTunes is the largest distributor of music on the planet; revisiting the smartphone space, Palm users for years downloaded and installed 3rd party apps to customize their user experience, but it took Apple to usher the idea of an "app store" into the common vernacular.

    Will Apple be on the outside looking in over OSX? Perhaps, but to dismiss them would be almost disrespectful in light of their monumental, nearly formulaic success. Will they miss this boat? I wouldn't bet on it.
    Non-techie Talk
    • Unfortunately often Apple's "successes" have had more to do with "cool"...

      @Non-techie Talk

      than cool. To water down a product-type, wrap it in a shiny case with a glowing logo and then over-hype through "shiny with a touch of snide smirk" to those attention-deficit consumers afraid of looking on the outer... not quite what I'd call "revolutionary"! Now as much as I am self-confessed anti-Apple (coming from one who was once the stereotypical Mactard through and through), I'm not denying that Apple Corp have not been able to mainstream technologies that had much less traction before Apple's forays in their realm... but the cost has often been by taking a path of mediocrity wrapped in shiny packaging.


      [b]* The iPod (any model, pick a model here).[/b]
      Several companies had experimented (with varying success) with portable digital music players. Creative however set the standard for the modern device, with an emphasis on audio fidelity and high quality manufacturing. Apple turns up with a much lesser quality product, fires up their marketing machine (one area Creative [i]still[/i] has no idea in!) and the iPod has become the must-have portable media player!

      [b]Note: Apple [i]still[/i] is rated as having the lowest quality audio playback of [i]any[/i] mainstream player on the market, whilst Creative and Sony lead the way... with others not too far behind. I know the famous tag line "there's an App for that"... but sorry, if the audio quality stinks without 3rd party help, then no thanks![/b]

      [b]* The iPad[/b]
      The tablet computer has been around for a while now... full PC functionality with terrible mobile-processing performance and low battery life. Netbooks fared better, but seriously cramped the style. Then along comes the [b]iPAD[/b]... all the glitz of a 10" screen-space, performance galore... but ohhh what a compromise! A (locked-down) mobile (web) UI... meaning no ability to customise the user experience at a core level (the key virtue of a full OS environ); no true file directory (thus necessitating iTunes for any file exchange/transfer) and at this point, to memory expansion. Oh, and forget actually installing any full fledged application. Instead one application might require several "Apps" by way of alternative; all of which require separate resources, update-protocols/schedules, and licensing agreements (even if not free)... which can amount to [i]more[/i] resource and power consumption than a single application on a more fully-fledged OS! But hey... it's prettier!!

      Apple at risk of collapse?? Unfortunately there are to many iDiots out there for that to be likely!
      • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

        @kaninelupus Apple products are successful not just because they are marketed as shiny and elitist -- its even more important that Apple products are marketed as an opportunity to put a thumb in the eye of the Microsoft giant and belong to the socially conscious crowd rather than the herd of MS drones.<br><br>The socially conscious (i.e. reel) branding of Apple products over Microsoft products for the faceless masses of middle aged has-beens is marketing genius. The branding concept taps the teen to mid-twenties group and then the middle aged crisis group in management. Think of all the Apple commercials with the cool young guy and then the obviously older failure guy representing MS. Better yet MS cannot counter for fear of scaring off that staid enterprise customer base that wants to minimize risk in its overall business...although select executives will be specially supported with apps interfacing to Apple iphones and such. <br><br>And then there are all the folks who for one reason or another find MS products overwhelming (or just can't quickly figure out how to get MS products to do what they want). Or who find the combination of price and obsolescence of the generic mainstream MS products appalling. (Note: I have seen people struggle just as much with Apple stuff -- but at least you can say you are struggling with an elite product and desktop software is cheaper.)
      • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

        @kaninelupus You're missing the point, here. Yes, TECHNICALLY, Apple may seem watered-down or not as capable as the competition. But marketing history demonstrates clearly that quality is not the sole determinant of business success.

        VHS beat Betamax, McDonald's beats Wendy's, Microsoft beat Apple (recall it was Microsoft who bought Apple in the late 80s to help Apple stave off bankruptcy)... and having learned from history, Apple understands that there is a blend and balance of function and form required to connect to the non-techie consumer, and to argue whether they have connected or not is moot.
        Non-techie Talk
  • Did you see Apple's sneak peek at Lion?

    Did you not also notice that in a few days Apple is bringing the iOS App concept to the desktop?<br><br>Steve Jobs answered the points being made here about what does and does not translate to the desktop.<br><br>Everyone wants to predict the end of Apple, in the slight chance they will be right so they can claim tto have predicted it.<br><br>As for the open source argument:<br><br>Whilst coding an app for iOS tonight I googled one of the Framework methods, and I got the open source site with the source code of the framework.<br><br>As for iOS not being open source, and Android benefitting from openness, you are joking, surely?<br><br>What do you think iOS is? And where do you think it comes from? And how long has most of it been around?<br><br>Linux based OSes are the late entrant to this Open Source world. They are a variant.<br><br>Android is a poorly implemented cousin of iOS.

    Please do some research before posting opinions and the opinions of other people that do not bother to reasearch.
    • Lion will be the test

      I'm not convinced bring mobile to the desktop will be a success (and why the iPhone was a success where the desktop type OSes failed). I'm interested to see what Apple brings across (fullscreen web-based apps and app store appear obvious).

      The open source model is good at many things, however I wouldn't put creativity as one of them.

      Apple will continue to lead the mobile space, Google will replace MS as the low cost (but greatest market share) option.

      The question remains where's MS in al of this. Never creative enough to be the leader, and no longer the lowest cost option. Guess it's back to their patent lawyers for relevancy.
      Richard Flude
  • And next we will hear...

    That the next big thing in TVs are 12 inch screens!

    It is funny how people can convince themselves of anything over hype. Exactly what is the "revolution" surrounding iPod, iPhone, iPad? ... A flash interface with animated UI which people were doing with flash since the 1990s, touch screens (also from the 1990s), and lots of marketing! And the #1 factor of those three is... Marketing by far.

    There is NO tech revolution going on here. It is hype for those susceptible to that sort of thing such as Wall Street, the Media, and people that want to be "cool" and have the money to spend on it.

    When the iPad can read my mind so I dont need a keyboard and mouse I will buy one. Until then it is a fashion statement that gets turned over to the little kiddies to use as expensive toys for the touch screen kiddie games after the novelty has worn off on the adult that bought it... and yes I have seen this exact pattern happen to every one of the iWhatever fans that was carrying these around in the office to show them off the first two months.
    • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

      @ggibson1 Not sure if you are indirectly referring to my calling iPhone "revolutionary", but I appreciate you're contention that there is "NO tech revolution going on."

      My suggestion is that the revolution is not so much technical as it is business. Apple is selling in a space previously occupied but listless. People now talk about smartphones because of iPhone, more than Blackberry or Palm, even though Treo's been at it so much longer.

      Apple's ability to turn latent ideas, poorly executed by incumbents into money-making winners, is revolutionary. They've done it many different spaces as have previously itemized. It's neither fluke nor accident, and that is revolutionary. Anyone who has tried webOS will likely say it is technologically better than iPhone's OS, but do you know three people currently using a webOS phone?
      Non-techie Talk
      • I agree Apple has done a great job

        @Non-techie Talk

        The great job they have done though that is "revolutionary" is their marketing. They have used marketing to convince people that a less useful tool is worth the money when they already have available more useful tools.

        That is good for selling things not needed to people that have spare money... it isnt good for changing business needs however. Business isnt about being cool. It is about being productive... and Apple has not given us anything more productive that what Blackberry or Palm has delivered.. they just provide a cooler package backed up by lots of great commercials.
  • The type of tablet I would like to buy...

    I would buy a tablet if Sony would make one that is made to work with their TVs so that when I am working on my Windows PC attached to my Sony TV or if I am watching a TV show and I need to go to the bathroom or want to go sit out on the porch I can just pick up the Sony TV tablet and go do my thing without missing a beat.

    If I am going to be any more mobile than that then a laptop is what I need and if I am really on the go then a phone with Internet connectivity that provides basic communications abilities which is all you are going to get from such a small screen and very limited input abilities.
  • Mobile is only third best.

    The best way of working a computer is the usual one. Second comes a laptop with a touchpad. Then a very poor third, mobile touchscreens.
  • Apple is smart

    I think you've forgotten who pushed this whole mobile movement mainstream. People don't use AT&T because of the extraordinary service. Apple's talent and foresight reach farther into the future than most of us realize. They build products people love. Sure, they're not open, but Apple doesn't need to be open.
  • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

    What!!!!........I thought Mainframe was making a comeback!
  • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

    I like the idea that desks and office buildings will be traded in favor of employees randomly wandering about the world using mobile phones to do their work. Most people work anonymous piecemeal jobs from worldwide job boards and big corporations die off except heavy manufacturing. Very Cyberpunk BUT... <br><br>I doubt that is realistic for most true enterprise businesses within the next 10-15 years. First most clerical and junior management have no frequent need to wander about. Plus there is that whole thing about supervising personnel who don't produce an end product whose originality, quality, and amount are easily tracked.<br><br>But most telling is that its always going to be more inconvenient to do complex visual tasks on a small display. Or to rapidly input complex data with limited keys while one hand is occupied steadying the input device. <br><br>Yes retail sales could easily do almost all customer and stocking tasks from a mobile phone if we limit monetary transactions to electronic transfers. However, enterprise management will need that "big picture" view of the desktop for creating and evaluating plans and submitting financials. Sure tiny sections can be discussed via mobile or passed out to specific people with tiny jobs to execute once the plan is done.<br><br>At least until they get a firm HUD directly into the eyes and teach kids "magic wand" data input as their primary communication language to people as well as machines. At that point the desktop will truly die. <br><br><br><br>But yes enterprises need to more naturally interface with mobile phones. In practice this will probably continue to be dividing web applications between customer-executive mobile apps and desktop apps for worker bees with complex in house tasks. Even hotel room sales being able to see multiple rates and options at once on their desktop is key to fast quality service. Imagine waiting for a sales rep using a mobile phone to view and compare on that info. I am sure that doing so would be a real memory building exercise though.
  • RE: In 2011, mainstream means mobile

    LOL -- editing a big post on this website is an interesting example of mobile app thinking. Yes it can be done. But the compacted HTML is easy to get lost in for longer posts. <br><br>So enterprises that focus on changing to mobile phone based OS and apps NOW -- are also in many cases <br><br>SUBSTANTIALLY changing the nature of customer communications and ALSO end products delivered if they are for instance an accounting firm. <br><br>Communications from letters totally explaining circumstance to a broken and delayed conversation based on no more than a couple lines of text message at a time. Frankly that works best when you have 1 on 1 texting. But outside dedicated customer service most enterprise convos will be multitasking efforts stretching across hours or days and several other people.

    And end product documents with hundred of full sized pages changing to a few short paragraphs at most? ZDNet quarterly financials down to no more than 3-4 flipped screens on a mobile phone. Would you pay an accounting firm for that analysis even if they provided hundreds of hierarchical hyperlinks? Sure people with an interest in only one tiny bit of the whole might be satisfied and also the OCD Micromanagers. But I think most with larger responsibility would overwhelmed by the combined tasks of navigating tiny fragments and then reassembling that info into meaningful overall picture.