Mobile platforms and business — part 2

August 7, 2010

Sometimes you write a blog entry where your point is quickly understood.  And then there are those “others”…

My earlier post on mobile platforms and their use by businesses probably falls into the second category… But I still think the point is worth discussion, so here we go again…

Many companies issue smart phones or provide the back-end infrastructure to enable their employees to use their favorite Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile device to manage their email, contacts and schedules.  I think we can all agree on this point.

However, this is just a small percentage of the business opportunities that exist for mobile devices.  Consider two examples:

  • I was recently visiting a friend in a major Boston-area hospital who was scheduled to have some surgery performed.  In the 30×30 foot room there were provisions for 6 patients — and each patient area included 2 laptops.  In addition, there were 3-4 laptops on mobile carts that were wheeled from one patient area to another to record data collected by medical professionals.  And on this floor, there were over 10 additional rooms just like this one.  In other words, a single floor in this hospital had approximately 160 laptops — and each laptop’s sole purpose was to provide access to the back-end servers.  In other words, the laptops were nothing more than terminals.  Imagine how many laptops must exist in the entire hospital.
  • Last month I had the “opportunity” to have my car repaired and spent some time chatting with one of the technicians.  He said that they spend several hours each week in e-learning courses which are often very frustrating to watch.  Apparently each video course is on a laptop in a room far away from the cars — so it is difficult to connect the instructions in the video with the relevant parts in the car.  He said it would be much easier if he could view the video while he was actually under the car.

These examples have a few things in common:  (1) Windows laptops are the primary device being used, (2) only a very small portion of the laptop’s capabilities are being used, and (3) the portability of the device is very important.

Thus I ask — What prevents a company from using an iPad (or similar device) instead of the much more expensive Windows laptops?

I think the answer is “infrastructure”.

Companies can only afford to support a certain number of devices, because each new device requires its own set of back-end support software, trained support personnel, spare parts, etc.  Thus, Windows laptops are often used in situations like this because the company already has many years experience supporting Windows computers, including laptops.

Thus, as the consumer market for mobile devices continues to get more and more crowded, I believe that the device manufacturers will include more capabilities designed to make their devices acceptable to business environments.   In fact, I don’t believe they have any choice.  Consumers are notoriously price-conscious and manufacturers must achieve a certain profit level to stay in business.   Therefore, the manufacturers will do more to make their mobile devices acceptable to businesses, but only a few of these manufacturers will be successful.

The key question then becomes “Which mobile devices will businesses embrace?”



Which mobile platforms will businesses embrace?

July 31, 2010

Each day it seems like there are 10 new applications for your iPhone, iPad, Droid-phone, etc.  And as you might expect, Windows-based tablets, according to Steve Balmer of Microsoft in a recent CNET article, are due out later this year (2010) with a bigger push early next year.

Then there is the continued growth of e-readers from a variety of sources such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, with some people projecting that they will replace paperback books in the near future.

And while each new platform may be attractive to one or more market segments of consumers — the real opportunity may be the level of adoption of a platform by businesses.

If you are a company like Airbus, Boeing, John Deere, Whirlpool or any other large manufacturing company, you have many thousands of employees and suppliers.  You depend on digital devices to communicate product design information and to facilitate the collaboration of your personnel — especially across geographies.   Today, the primary device is a personal computer, usually a Windows-based laptop.

But as we all know, laptops have their limitations and may be overkill in a number of situations.  For example, if you want to know whether a part is positioned correctly inside an airplane fuselage, you may want to refer to a digital image of the drawing (or 3-D model).  Trying to hold you laptop in one hand while you position the part with the other hand is awkward at best, especially if you have a large laptop.

What type of device is best (and most cost-effective) for this type of situation?

A laptop?  An iPad?  An e-reader?  Or perhaps just a Smartphone?   Many people would argue that “any of these might work, depending on the situation”.

However, since sharing digital data within a corporate environment requires secure high-speed communications, I believe the bigger question is “How many of these digital platforms will businesses decide to support?”

And given the cost of deploying internal networks with ever-increasing bandwidth and the costs of distributing and maintaining each platform — I believe that devices that can easily connect to existing internal networks and can quickly download content from existing servers through web-based clients are most likely to be adopted by companies.

In other words, I think that the corporate “hand-held device” market could easily be dominated by Microsoft — IF they are able to produce high-quality, high-performing, and easy-to-use products and get them to market in sufficient quantities in a timely manner.

What do you think?

New markets for the Apple iPad?

April 8, 2010

The Apple iPad is finally here.  And the first batch of die-hard Apple fans have waited in line for hours, purchased them, and hurried home.  The blogs are simply overflowing with comments.

But I think the iPad’s impact in business applications will be much more far-reaching.

Today, there are a wide variety of hand-held applications in use in a wide variety of industries.

For instance, some doctors use laptops connected to wireless networks in their office to reference and update their patient records.  Other doctors use Palm, Windows-mobile, Blackberry, or even iPhone devices to review information, record observations, and order treatments, tests, and/or medications.  Patients are also issued similar devices to collect, record, and report treatment results.

In a similar manner, discrete manufacturers often use personal computers or hand-held devices to provide instructions (including images), to manufacturing personnel, technicians and the like.

This means that every software provider that wants to offer solutions to these industries has to develop, test, and deploy their products for each one of these devices.  They also have to develop, test, and deploy server-side components that are usually unique to each hand-held device.   It is hard to even list all of the testing permutations that each of these software providers must currently endure, especially if you take into account the various operating systems versions that must be supported for each hand-held device.

Into this environment comes the iPad.  If it is just another device, then each of these software providers must adopt yet another device and devote even more development, testing, and deployment resources.

But what if the iPad can achieve enough popularity with businesses so that it replaces one or more of the current hand-held devices?   What if users become so thrilled with the iPad’s large touch screen user experience so that they don’t want to use any of the other devices?

Imagine how much more productive these software companies could be if they only had to develop, test, and deploy a single version of their application — for the iPad.

I’m not an Apple fan in general, in fact I’m writing this post on a Microsoft laptop and use a Windows mobile phone.  However, I’m a big fan of software products and recognize that if you have fewer platforms to support, you should be able to get better products to market even faster.

But on the other hand, I expect a lot of iPad-like devices in the near future just as there are now a number of iPod-like devices, which will make the lives of these software companies even more complicated.   I just hope that the end result is a much better user experience for the users of these devices.

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