February 20, 2014

Productivity Gets Reimagined when Mobile is the Design Baseline

(Originally published on Reflections Blog 2/17/14)

Why bother with 6AM conference calls and 14-hour flights? Because we are at the early beginnings of an era where imaginative thinkers are changing everything in sight – from thermostats to software.

I’m talking specifically about design shifts in mobile enterprise software, the likes of which one day we will look back upon with awe. These past few weeks, I saw it in spades, as we launched Syncplicity’s mobile apps.

What’s different now?

In the first wave of mobile software development, incremental innovation simply brought old functionality to a new device. In the process, fundamentals were often missed.

How frustrating to see a document for review on your mobile screen, yet be unable to edit it? Design was simply your desktop basic functionality, brought awkwardly to your smart phone.

The second wave brought mobile on par with the desktop. Functionality was refactored amidst the new memory and added capabilities of our favorite gadgets. Less and less R&D teams argued if a mobile version of their software was next.

But such design was still a parallel effort, a passenger alongside the driver of monolithic application development. SharePoint is now in the cloud? Interesting, but it doesn’t solve my problems.

The reality is that mobile itself is the new design baseline, cleanly isolated and independent of any lingering PC notions. Mobile is the superset form factor, under which all functionality must be derived and considered.

This third wave of design is what ignites our imagination and makes us want to drive 24/7 to brilliant new productivity solutions.

Once we unleash imagination, it’s only a matter of time before the way we think about “productivity” will change in thrilling ways. Remember what “taking pictures” used to mean? 

It was a time-consuming and disparate routine of carrying camera equipment with you, buying film, configuring the camera settings, and at last, waiting to process the film.

By rethinking “taking pictures” as “sharing moments,” however, those inefficiencies not only disappeared, but new worlds opened up. Ubiquitous devices brought image capture to the masses. Apps made photos easy and addictive to share. And social created a place where all the people to share photos with are constantly present.

The same thing will occur as we rethink “productivity” from the mobile perspective. Many attributes of mobile are barely tapped today: proximity, location and personalization, for example.

And we already we see new segments quickly embracing the third wave first, as inklings of what’s to come:

  • retail workers processing credit card payments without the customer ever waiting in line
  • flight attendants logging meal orders as they walk the aisle with their device
  • citizens never bothering with the red tape to turn on a “land line”

It’s time to think: how else can we eliminate knowledge workers’ wasted time, speed their transactions, and heighten their ability to share their value?

Yes, mobile itself offers rich new design inspiration. But imaginative designers will rethink it all – the meaning of “productivity” included.

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