When “Mobile” and “Phone” Finally Become One

When “Mobile” and “Phone” Finally Become One

It has been almost fourteen years since I wrote a piece focused on the topic “device convergence”. At the time, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition devices (yes, that was really a name; one day I will write an article just on the insanity that was and sometimes still is Microsoft’s branding strategy) were being marketed as “all-in-one”. In 2003, this meant your device could be used for things like –

  • Phone calls
  • PIM functions (calendar, email, tasks)
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Games

While these tasks are the norm today, they were typically handled by more than one device back in 2003. You carried your laptop, MP3 music player and phone to complete these activities. The claim became that you only need one device – your WM2K3PPCPE (this is still easier than typing that whole stinking name out) device. The article I wrote back then basically challenged that notion.

When I wrote my article, my position was not that there could never be such a thing as a “converged device”; in fact, I truly believed one was on the horizon. I did believe, however, that it was too soon to try to use the current wave of devices for that purpose. They simply were not ready for this due to limitations on the hardware of the time. Using your single device for everything typically meant sacrifices in –

  • Battery life. In 2003, a single movie on your phone would typically be enough to drain all the battery. Just typical operation limited battery life on average to 3 to 4 hours.
  • Storage capacity. On-device storage was limited, and expansion cards were expensive. In 2003, I paid way more for a 32MB card than I would today for a 32GB card.
  • Processor. We have come so far when it relates to mobile CPU and associated chip technologies. In addition to power inefficiencies, there was the simple lack of performance when performing any number of tasks, leading to a less-than-desirable user experience.
  • Overall user experience. The industry was still trying to figure out what made for the best user experiences when performing tasks on a small screen. Microsoft’s approach at the time was to essentially “shrink down” desktop application user interfaces. While they functioned, they were less than intuitive and far from optimized for the phone.

The point of my article back in 2003 was “when the time is right, device convergence will happen. It is just not now.” It really did take a few years, as even the first couple of iPhone iterations were far from perfect as a converged device, and Android had a lot of work to do initially when it came to usability and performance. But we did get there. We reached the point where for many people, a single device would suffice for a number of tasks. However, there was and still is another level of device convergence yet to be achieved; the true “all-in-one” device that includes the ability to perform all the tasks of the traditional desktop computer.

While many would argue that such devices already exist, my criteria for the “ultimate converged device” as I will call it includes all the common abilities we see today in an acceptable device form factor. It also includes the ability to run desktop applications. This is where things get tricky. I don’t expect to be able to run a complex application on my small screen, but if I were able to dock or connect to a monitor, keyboard and mouse I should be able to do exactly what I would do if at my desk running a full-size machine. I am also willing to compromise here in that some applications require chipsets so high-end that, for the foreseeable future at least, I simply do not find it reasonable for that technology to make it into an ultimate converged device.  For the average user or worker however, this should be an attainable goal.

In order to create the ultimate converged device, we really need to look at how the operating systems have been traditionally crafted. For Apple, Google and Microsoft, mobile operating systems have been traditionally built separate from any desktop counterparts. For Apple, iOS was built to mimic in some ways but never to duplicate OSX/MacOS. For Microsoft, even with Windows 10 Windows 10 Mobile has been crafted for a different chipset. The same goes for Google and Android as a fork of Linux. As a result, I cannot simply install my desktop application on my phone; it doesn’t work that way. For years, there were very good reasons for this. Many of the reasons I mentioned back in 2003 still applied more recently as the goal became more complicated. However, s it so inconceivable to think that the ultimate converged device is that far off now?

One of the things an ultimate converged device would need to have is awareness of what it is connected to at any given point in time and control what can or cannot be done based upon that connectivity. Microsoft already has a working “proof of concept” so to speak today with its Continuum capabilities in higher-end Windows 10 Mobile devices. When docked or connected to the correct peripherals, the UI adapts accordingly. Microsoft intends to extend this in Windows 10 across devices with CShell (Mary Jo Foley provides a good overview of CShell in a post for her All About Windows column at ZDNet). If extended to my ultimate converged device, my phone would look and behave like a phone when just the device is used. When docked or connected (remember, wireless connectivity might just as well suffice), the device not only looks like a desktop UI on my monitor; I have access to all my applications at that point.

In order to run my desktop applications on my ultimate converged device, I would need to provide it with a capable operating system. This also gets a bit tricky, as operating systems are typically closely tied to chipsets, and traditional desktop chipsets simply have not been efficient enough for highly mobile devices (i.e. – phones). This is rapidly changing, however. While many believe Intel essentially abandoned the mobile space when dropping their mobile-specific lines, I believe that their focused efforts on improving efficiencies in their other designs are leading to a point where they themselves could potentially be used in an ultimate converged device. We are not quite there yet, though. In the interim, there is an alternative to bridge this gap in the form of emulation.

Google is already leveraging emulation to some extent with Chrome and Android applications. However, this is more of an “inside-out” approach, as we are seeing mobile applications being brought to a “desktop” platform rather than the other way around. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be attempting to move more aggressively in this direction with the creation of Windows 10 for ARM chipsets and an x86 emulation layer. Basically, Windows 10 could run on a traditional high-end mobile chipset (think Qualcomm Snapdragon here) for compatibility and performance, yet also run traditional desktop applications. If you have not seen this in action yet, you can start with this Microsoft BUILD 2017 presentation and demo. If Microsoft can get past Intel’s obvious objections regarding this approach, emulation could be combined with CShell to provide the ultimately desired result – a phone that could, when properly connected, serve as a functional desktop machine that finally brings “mobile” and “phone” together.

For Microsoft, this approach to a truly mobile phone has huge implications. They definitely have the most to gain in bringing to market a device that can serve as the single computing piece of hardware for all needs. While the benefits would not be nearly as great for Apple or Google to look towards a similar approach, they must be considering the ramifications for their platforms should Microsoft bring such a device to market. While loyalty to the iPhone and Android runs strong, most of these users still rely on Windows for day-to-day activities, especially in the workplace. A phone that could also perform that work would be enticing to say the least.

In 2003 I felt that a converged device was technically possible, but the sacrifices and limitations left the average user dissatisfied. In 2017, I do feel the same way with regards to a true all-in-one PC/phone. However, I feel that we are closer to the ultimate converged device in 2017 than I felt we were to a solid multifunction device back in 2003. The changes to mobile computing with such devices will be quite profound for both the business world and individuals. It has been a long wait, but I am looking forward to “mobile” and “phone” coming together once and for all.

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The Challenge of Mobile Device Perspective

The Challenge of Mobile Device Perspective

Last week, I posted the picture you see above to social media, explaining that I still find a way to use all of these devices on a regular basis. While I admit that a small part of my rationale for doing this is just “the geek in me”, there is a much greater driver for doing this – perspective. When it comes to mobile devices and decisions (especially with regards to the enterprise), perspective is important and many times lacking.

It is perfectly normal for any one individual to have preferences when it comes to… well, ANYTHING. Mobile devices are no exception. There can also be many reasons for those preferences as well. When making decisions that affect not only yourself but others (potentially many others), those preferences should not be the primary guiding principle in the process. However, my experiences far too often have found that the personal preferences of key stakeholders and decision-makers around enterprise mobility are often just that, if not the only factor in the final decision. Such myopic thinking can be costly, if not devastating, to mobility-related initiatives.

It is easy enough to simply say “I need to have a better perspective” when it comes to choosing between mobile device vendors and platforms, but gaining that perspective can be no small task. While I have been fortunate enough to be in situations that regularly afford me the ability to work with varying devices and operating systems on a regular basis, not everyone has that ability. There are always ways to be able keep perspective, though. Here are some suggestions of things I still regularly do –

  • Talk with different users. I explicitly did not say “talk to” here. Instead, seek out friends and associates that use mobile devices and technologies that you do not use. For quite some time, I did not have regular access to Apple technologies. During that time, I regularly spoke with friends, co-workers and clients who did use these technologies on a regular basis. I got to know what they liked and disliked as well as what they perceived to be the strong and weak points of their platforms. The key here is to listen and be careful not to try to influence (be it consciously or subconsciously) what they are communicating. In other words – it’s a discussion, not a debate.
  • Research, research, research. If you have not heard, the Internet is a wonderful source of information 🙂 Like everything else related to the Internet, be selective in what you use for information. When it comes to mobile device platforms, the major players (Google, Apple and Microsoft) have an unending supply of information beyond the sales hype available. Take the time to learn. The investment is well worth the effort.
  • Compare and contrast. To be honest, I find myself doing this little mental exercise on a daily basis. Having the information is one thing; applying it appropriately is another. Do not wait until it is time to make mobility decisions to think things through. Instead, whenever using your preferred device, ask yourself questions like “how would I accomplish this using [other device platform]?”, or “is this application feasible or even available for [other device platform]?” This exercise takes so little effort, yet keeps you in a mindset that always considers the bigger picture around mobility.
  • Always ask “Does it HAVE to be just one?”. Always remember that even if the decision may be stated to pick a single device, the best solution that can meet all requirements may include more than a single choice. In any situation where I have been asked to provide input to or select a single device for any solution or initiative, I immediately ask “is there a reason why more than one device is not considered an option?” If you have the knowledge and perspective, you can often clearly articulate why more than one choice would provide the best fit.
  • Collaborate on decisions. Even if I am the “final say” in any decisions when it comes to mobile devices, I always discuss my thoughts and rationales with others I feel would provide additional perspective. If you recall, I stated at the beginning of this piece that it is natural to have a bias (i.e. – “preference”). Despite all our best efforts, it is possible for that bias to still sneak itself in. Seeking out individuals who can represent valid interests in whatever is at stake in the decision to verify your thoughts is always a good thing. Additionally, it never hurts to have someone who can play the role of “Devil’s Advocate” well available to you for times like this. There is never a need to decide in a vacuum, only an effort to do so.

Of course, any decisions regarding device choice will always need to factor in any of the business requirements that may narrow the scope of device selection. In a decision-making process.  Be sure, however, to be wary of requirements passed along that themselves may be driven by a preference of a person involved in the requirements-gathering. On a few occasions over the years, I have had folks attempt to add requirements that were distinctly leading to only a single device but were really not necessary for the larger goal of the initiative at hand. These types of requirements usually came in the form of an application that only existed on one platform but did not have any direct place in the larger initiative, or a feature provided by a specific device platform that really had no impact on achieving the goals of the project or initiative. With proper knowledge and perspective on your part, you should be able to identify these situations and discuss the value of the requirements accordingly.

The reality of the mobile device world today is that it is multiple platforms and multiple choices. This is not going to change any time soon (and hopefully never as choice and competition are always a good thing). As a result, you need to be able to make decisions that best support goals and drivers. Maintaining perspective is crucial to all of this. While it can be challenging to do so, gaining and keeping perspective across all the mobile device platforms is something well worth any effort required. That is why I will keep plugging away with all of those “thingys” at my desk.

Mobile Policies and Users – What is Old is New Again

Mobile Policies and Users – What is Old is New Again

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance who described recent events at his company that had him really upset. What was interesting to me was the fact that over the course of my career, I have heard variations of the same story too many times to recall. The story had to do with his company’s recent implementation of policies around employee’s mobile devices. I will come around to this one person’s complaint shortly, but I want to provide a bit of context as to why I have frequently heard these types of problems.

Back in 2002, I spoke at a local conference focused on mobile devices. At that time, “mobile devices” usually meant Personal Digital Assistants (“PDAs”) like the Palm Pilot of Microsoft’s Pocket PC. While these devices were principally focused on personal use, they were starting to be used by some within their enterprise environments. The audience I was speaking to was IT-focused, so I asked a simple question –

      “How many of you have documented mobile device policies within your organization?”

Out of the 50 or so people in the room, two hands went up. This was a bit surprising, but not shocking given where we were with mobility. My presentation focused on what should be done in this regard, and included an important point – all policies should be clearly documented and communicated to your employees before they formally take place. I received quite a bit of “thank yous” after the session, and one of the two who raised their hands to my question did say to me that they only wished they had done the communication in advance. Not doing so created quite a bit of backlash from users, mainly because they felt that they were not being considered as part of the process.

By 2007, PDAs were being replaced by smartphones and were rapidly becoming common for both personal and business use. By and large, however, policies regarding mobile device use in the enterprise were few and far between. We were seeing the emergence of a new breed of software platform attempting to help address the issue of policy compliance in the form of Mobile Device Management, or “MDM”. RIM (as Blackberry was known at the time) had success with Blackberry Enterprise Server, and by 2008 I was working with Microsoft’s first foray in the space with System Center Mobile Device Manager (NOTE: One day, I will write on my time with SCMDM, but I may need a book for all the stories). A common complaint during this time from employees reminded me of my speaking engagement five years prior. Users were still complaining about a lack of awareness as to the “whats” and, more importantly to many, the “whys” of these polices now being enforced on their devices. For some Blackberry users I would talk to, their only complaint about the platform was not understanding why their IT organization did what they did when configuring their device. It is important to note that I recall asking at least a couple of times “if you knew why this was done, would it help?” The answer was always “yes”.

This brings us 10 years forward to the present. We all know how far the world of mobile devices have progress (for perspective, the first iPhone was launched in 2007 and Android was far more vision than reality at that time). MDM platforms have expanded into the realm of Enterprise Mobility Management (“EMM”), including capabilities to provide and manage applications, resources and secure access. MDM and EMM platforms have rapidly become norms in the IT world. While these tools are valuable for the implementation and enforcement of mobile device polices, they are not themselves the policy; they are only the enablers. To effectively use an EMM platform, you must have a strategy and policy (or polices) in place. Most organizations recognize this and take the time to craft everything needed to succeed in implementing the technology. However, a full 15 years after my initial encounter with IT professionals and discussing mobile device policies, I still find a nagging recurring issue with these implementations. This brings me back full circle to my recent discussion.

The acquaintance I was talking to was complaining about the recent rollout of what was clearly to me an EMM platform in their organization. They said that, one day, they received an email stating that by the end of the week they would need to follow the following steps listed in an attached document if they wished to continue receiving email. They complied, following the steps. During enrollment, they received vague references to what was happening and potentially what could be done with and to their device because of enrollment. This caused this person to pause and question whether it was worth it. They quickly realized that there was not much choice in the situation, but they complied. They tried looking for more information regarding what was really being controlled and what “compliance” really meant. They did not have much luck. In the end, this individual was seriously considering using this device (which was corporate-issued, by the way) as little as possible moving forward.

While communication may not have necessarily helped this particular person with all of their apprehensions, it most certainly would not have hurt. This leads me to the point of this entire story – Effective communication of your mobile device policies are as important as the policies themselves if you wish to have a smooth and successful implementation. While this may seem obvious to many people in IT, it does not mean it is addressed. I can comfortably state that I have seen the same issues occur with other types of rollouts in the IT world over the years. The key point to remember is that overall success of a technology platform includes implementation, acceptance and adoption. While IT can control the first item, it is users of the technology that control the second and third items and can make or break overall success of rolling out an MDM or EMM platform. As a result, a positive user experience is often essential in making it all work.

Here are a few simple suggestions that can go a long way towards easing user concerns and answering questions around the implementation of mobile device polices within an organization –

  • Clearly document your policies. This should be a “no-brainer”, but too many times I have found that “documentation” of a policy consists of a series of vague bullet points used as a starting point for building the strategy, with no detail beyond that ever fully documented. Make sure that your policies are written to be read and understood by your users (i.e. – avoid technical talk and jargon that the average user will not understand and simply for readability).
  • Document the “whys”. Most policies focus on the “whats” and “hows”, but do not explain the “whys”. While the policies themselves do not necessarily need to contain this information, there should be some form of documentation that does try to describe why the policies exist. While users may not like the answer you provide, providing it is always better than not communicating at all.
  • Over-communicate. You should have everything around documentation in place well in advance of your rollout (yes, IT folks – I can hear you chuckling over this one). The reason for this – communicating early and often prior to rollout will make acceptance greater and confusion far less. In the past, I have recommended an initial high-level communication one month in advance of rollout that describes the goals and quickly describes what will happen. A second communication a couple of weeks prior which (hopefully) provides access to resources around the policies and “whys” also reinforces preparation. Finally, a communication with details a day in advance prepares the user and avoids getting “caught off guard” when the time has come to enroll the device.

Will these suggestions solve all your problems? Absolutely not; no technology rollout pleases everyone. Based on my experiences, however, you will greatly reduce user reluctance if you take the time and plan accordingly. Over the years, a common statement from end users around all of this has been “if I only knew more about what was going on”. I heard these words again recently, and even without specific knowledge of this acquaintance’s specific implementation, I was able just by talking about why enterprises generally use EMM solutions and their associated benefits, I was able to make this one person feel a bit less hesitant in using their device moving forward. In the end, that is what we all want; a solution that benefits the company and does not break the end user experience, either literally or through misperception or lack of knowledge.

It’s Time…

It is time… time to start writing again.

For years, I wrote about technology on a regular basis. News posts, blog posts and articles for various magazines. While writing is never “simple”, it was always a labor of love. I got to discuss something I was passionate about. Then, things changed.

At first, I found myself just tiring a bit of all the writing. It was probably best described as burnout. Combine that with a busy work life and home life, and writing on a regular basis became that much more difficult. I cannot entirely blame my change of heart solely on this, however. It took me a while to realize, but I was also finding it harder to be passionate about topics that had, for the most part, become so mainstream.

When I first started writing about mobile technology, it was all very new and very niche. Most PDA and smartphone users were enthusiasts. The enterprise found this technology intriguing at best and an annoyance at worst. There was so much to discuss and to ponder; it was easy to capture it all. Over time what was so new became so common, both for the users of mobile technology and providers (including the enterprise). Additionally, the number of people writing on mobile tech exploded. In a way, I came to feel as though I was one voice in a chorus of thousands, and my voice simply was not that important in the big picture. It was time for me to step away.

Recently, I began to reflect on all of this. One of the things that I came to realize is that it was me and not the environment around me that resulted in my decision to stop writing. Certainly, the areas of my passion for writing became more mainstream. One thing they did not do was to become stagnant; just the opposite has been the case. Additionally, my passion did not subside; it simply changed how it was focused. With my professional life focused on mobile device management (“MDM”) and enterprise mobility management (“EMM”) technologies, I was channeling much of my enthusiasm into working with enterprises implementing solutions. I was fortunate enough to work with multiple partners providing MDM and EMM platforms, providing me with an opportunity to learn and apply so much more. I worked daily with all variety of mobile devices, from form factors (phones and tablets) to operating systems (Windows, iOS, Windows Mobile/Phone, Android) and countless hardware partners. Instead of typing and publishing, I was speaking and teaching and doing. I was still involved with my passion. All good things must come to an end, however.

A little over a year ago, my job role and focused both changed. I assumed a management role working with a wonderful group of analysts involved with other services my employer provided. For the first time in almost a decade, I was removed from the world of mobile technology. I have no regrets about the change, as it gave me the opportunity to help grow a new organization within the company and the opportunity to meet and work with many new people and face many new challenges. Over time, however, I started to find myself missing where I had come from. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. This, in turn, led to reflection and some realizations.

I do miss writing. It is one of many ways of communicating my knowledge and passion for mobile technologies, be it consumers or the enterprise. There is still so much to write about, to discuss and to teach. While life goes on and is never “quiet”, I can (and will) make the time to write again. Most of all, I am excited to write again and that makes all the difference to me.

It’s time to write again. Stay tuned – we have so much to discuss.