Coming to all mobile devices: Portable user environments

Coming to all mobile devices: Portable user environments

Summary: The most powerful feature in the mobile era will soon be coming of age: user environments that follow the user from device to device.

SHARE:
JK Tablets (600x262)

The era of the mobile device is entering a new phase that will empower users as never before. The ability to have a single user login that brings all apps, settings, and user customizations from one device to another will soon be the norm.

Those using multiple devices -- laptops, tablets, smartphones -- are used to a lack of communication among them. You set up your laptop the way you want it including the user environment, but when you get a tablet you have to do it all over again. Any apps you install on one often have to be purchased anew and installed on each device you use on a particular platform.

That will soon be a thing of the past as the major mobile platforms are moving to handle not only multiple users on a device but more importantly make each user's environment portable. The user environment carefully configured on the laptop, for example, will follow you to the tablet you buy.

Microsoft gets how important this is and has implemented not only multiple user support but also allows the user environment, including some configurations and personal information, to follow you to any Windows 8 device you log into. Sign in and your stuff is there on both PCs and tablets. It is quite powerful and a huge time saver now that Windows handles multiple device forms. Microsoft got this right with Windows 8. Hopefully this will soon extend onto Windows Phones to complete the mobile experience.

Those using Android devices have already enjoyed a limited form of this mobile user environment across phones and tablets. You sign in with your Google account and all apps installed on one device are available on other Android devices. You still have to personalize the user environment, but the important stuff (email, contacts, apps) follow you.

Now that the Chrome browser is the default on the most current versions of Android, the browser environment follows you, too. This has particular importance for those using Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Android devices. Just log into those devices and your entire browsing environment is instantly available. This yields a user environment that follows you from desktop to laptop to tablet to phone. This is incredibly powerful.

If Google makes it possible in the future to run Android apps on devices running the Chrome OS the mobile user environment will be complete. I wouldn't be surprised if Google is working on this although I have no information that this is so. It makes sense though, and would meld Chrome/Chrome OS/Android into a powerful ecosystem of apps and portable user environments. Imagine if all your Android apps were on not only your phone and tablet but your Chromebook and Chromebox, too.

The just-announced version of Android, aka Key Lime Pie, is finally bringing multiple user profiles to the platform. This makes sense on tablets which are often passed around. Each user logs in to the Android tablet and the device changes to fit the particular user. This is already handled flawlessly on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. Windows 8 allows multiple user profiles, too.

Those in the Apple ecosystem have a limited form of the portable environment. Apps follow the user from iPhone to iPad, along with some user information through iCloud. Some user information bridges OS X the same way. It's not like the full user profile follows the Mac, iPhone, and iPad owner around, but it's getting there.

Soon I expect that on all three of these platforms all pertinent information will cross from desktop to mobile devices via a single user login. All your apps will be available on any device you use via a simple login. This makes sense not on just a user level but for the companies building the platforms. This is a powerful incentive for consumers to stick with a single vendor as all investments in the platform ecosystem will follow the user. Buy once, use everywhere.

One user profile, one user experience. This will complete the bridge between the desktop and the mobile world. The focus will be on the user and not the device, which is as it should be. I don't think we have long to wait until we get there.

Topics: Mobile OS, Android, iOS, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

9 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Barrier to entry

    Seems to me that once Google, MS and Apple have implemented this well, it will be nearly impossible for anyone else to enter any subset of this market (phone, OR tablet, OR notebook, OR desktop) with a new OS, never mind the whole ecosystem.

    While I certainly appreciate the convenience of it all, it does leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable to end up being so "trapped" with a single provider. Eventually, perhaps 3 will become 2 and they will have us over a barrel.
    D.T.Long
  • I'm sure this is right... but,

    ... it is becoming increasingly hard to understand why everyone needs to own two, three, four devices, each with enough computing power to do everything they need to do (we're not talking video editors or 3D animators - just regular folks), and local storage too.
    Yes, form factor matters; we want a 'phone when on out and about, a tablet for lightweight travel, a big screen at home/office - and so on, but none of these form factors are about computing - they're all about interface.
    The solution I am hoping for is this; everyone has a phone - which has enough computing power to do everything they need, and which is likely their only actual 'computer'.
    It has many types of wireless networking abilities (mobile, bluetooth, wifi), and an industry standard multi-functional connector (thunderbolt/USB3), which can daisy chain to address displays, input devices, wired networks, peripherals.
    All your general data, - apps, photos, movies, music, etc., will be stored in the cloud, with some sort of background daemon that keeps recent stuff synced to the 'phone. But all your sensitive personal data will never be stored on the cloud - only issued when relevant to specific requirements. The 'phone will have reliable personal biometric identification abilities, so that only you can access/authorise use of your secure data.
    Thus we will always carry with us a secure set of our personal information, and share as little as possible of it with the network.
    The 'phone will have the ability to recognise specific settings, where it will be docked or networked, so that at home it can immediately access a big screen, at work it can be docked to power a work screen/keyboard and link up with workplace networks and peripherals. Coffeeshops and hotels will lend/rent us docks, screens and keyboards, which will be commodity devices with little independent computing power. As will tablets. a tablet is a great human interface device - but the idea of owning a tablet AND a phone, and having to set them up separately is ludicrous. a tablet should be a peripheral of a 'phone, and nothing more.
    dilgreen
    • No personal data in the cloud?

      dilgreen, how is personal data supposed to be backed up?

      I hear a lot of talk about how inherently insecure the cloud is as if Google and Amazon were as easy to crack as Gawker. The reality is your personal information is less secure on a phone, less secure on your home backup hard disk. If you have encryption in place, you can encrypt your cloud data and back it up simply by having redundant copies. If someone pickpockets your phone or breaks into your home/office and steals your devices, that data is simply gone.

      For the average user, I see less risk to putting data into the hands of big scary corporations than having it on potentially insecure devices stored in definitely insecure locations such as pockets and desks. Especially with technology like Google's OS, a thief could steal every device you own and not only not take your only copies of your data, but not get any data at all.

      Granted, I say this as someone who has had a phone stolen, had a laptop stolen, and has been a victim of credit card fraud as a result. I am far less paranoid about what unknown evil a company like Google or Microsoft might do than the known evil thieves will most definitely do given the opportunity.
      slackdragon
      • slackdragon, I'm not saying..

        ... that having your data on your 'phone is inherently the most secure setup. I just think it will be the most popular one, following this chain of thought:
        1. Cloud gets to be ubiquitous
        2. hackers concentrate on getting in - after all , if you can get to several million credit card numbers, that's got to be worth a great deal of effort
        3. bad guys always have success in an arms race against good guys. Why? Because it's a full time job for the bad guys, and ultimately a business overhead cost to the good guys.
        4. when hackers steal a few million credit card numbers, its ALWAYS news
        5. When people see this news, they will conclude that the cloud is somehow scary
        6. As smart mobile devices become commodity items (at the current rate of development, that is anytime soon), manufacturers will want to differentiate. as you point out, having your data on the 'phone is risky - so there will be strong pressure to differentiate in the area of biometric security - which will result in some genuinely secure offerings, I believe.

        Your suggested optimum, which is backing up an encrypted version to the cloud [which is of course, the right way to go], seems unlikely to be ubiquitous, as it will require extra effort from users - who have bought smart devices on the basis that they can stop thinking about computers.

        Myself, I trust evil corporations a lot more than I trust governments [left-wing anarcho-syndicalist, not right wing libertarian, in case it interests you] - and evil corporations always always give up the info the the government - often without even bothering to let us know.

        Thanks for the considered response. This set of comments hasn't descended into fanboy wars yet - probably as a consequence of only having generated 4 comments - but you can't have everything...
        dilgreen
        • furthermore...

          I just came across a New Scientist news piece that adds to my case against keeping secure data on the cloud.
          Security researchers at the University of North Carolina have shown that they can use a virtual machine on a cloud server to hack into another vm on the same hardware - reconstructing a 4096 encryption key in 4 hours.
          http://www.itnews.com.au/News/322105,researchers-use-virtual-machine-for-cloud-crypto-key-attack.aspx
          dilgreen
    • Interesting...

      I had similar thought this past weekend while using the GPS in my HTC phone. Would it be so better if my car, less than one year old, could have a dumb screen and a connector to dock my phone. In this hypothetical setup, that screen could still show what is behind my car when I getting out of the garage or open up the Internet using my data plan that I'm paying any ways. Gestures and voice activated commands could make the whole experience safe, and as this become main stream, a lot of savings could be done.
      FuzzyIce
      • exactly..

        .. but the market for an app that works in that make/model of car only is going to be a lot smaller than that for an iOs/android/WP8 app, so it will be non-existent/less good/not updated - another pressure towards use of 'one device to rule them all'
        dilgreen
  • Yeah, but....

    I'm still awaiting Dick Tracy's 2-way video wristwatch.
    harry_dyke
  • I'll be impressed....

    When I can move preferences from my Microsoft Windows 8 Laptop to my Android-based Kindle Fire to my iPhone cell phone.

    There is one thing that does enable me to share my email, contacts, calendar and tasks across all 3 devices today: Microsoft Exchange!
    Marc Jellinek