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Mobile Only – What’s It Gonna Take?

Mobile Only: Week 8

What’s it going to take to not think of mobile devices as just an addition to the PC mind-set? How can we move to a more streamlined setup? This week I am taking a short break from examining collaboration to look at the latest Forrester research on mobile devices. According to Forrester:

Tablets [will] only partially cannibalize PCs. Eventually tablets will slow laptop sales but increase sales of desktop PCs. That’s because many people, especially information workers, will still need conventional PCs for any intensely creative work at a desk that requires a large display or significant processing power.

The above quote is the latest analysis from Forrester as of April 23rd. The report from Forrester predicts that by 2016 tablets will be our primary computing device. However, Forrester thinks that this transition to tablets as our primary device will be in addition to our PCs. Is this really as far as we will get in our mobile vision? Is the best we can hope for a replacement of our laptops?

This latest research from Forrester implies that in the next four years we’ll go from a PC, laptop, and smartphone to a PC, tablet, and smartphone. While this is a step in the right direction, I don’t consider that much of an improvement. For years, I have been able to have a stationary device (PC), a portable device (laptop), and a limited communication device (phone). Is swapping out the type of portable device that much of a win in the bigger picture? Yes, I know a tablet is easier to carry and pass around – but I am already cluttered with too much electronic baggage. Shouldn’t we be moving towards streamlined simplicity? Shouldn’t we be striving for improved efficiency rather than a slick replacement for our laptops? I don’t want to have a PC, a tablet, and a phone. It’s not a big improvement over where I am currently at. There is no advantage in it for me.  What I want to have is those three device collapsed into a single context-aware device that meets my needs from the office, to the coffee shop, to on the street.

What is the biggest hindrance to this vision? I’ll argue that is it visual in nature at its most basic principle. We have become accustomed to our large screens. Tablets and smartphones do not currently adjust appropriately when connected to a monitor. We crave our vast expanses of screen real-estate. Our tablets and smartphones are not yet up to the challenge of projecting correctly upon these canvases. We need to expect more of the hardware and OS.

A secondary issue is that we are creatures of habit. We have come to a level of comfort with our way of working with the PC. We crave the repetitive nature of coming in to work each day and sitting at the same location, leveraging the same toolset (apps), and performing the same tasks. Mobility creates a disruption in that paradigm and causes us to push our work boundaries. Tablets offer convenience but we are not ready to fully commit to them. In the end, it seems it is easier to choose the intellectually easy path of the status quo.

In the last analysis, does it really come down to the fact that people are habitual creatures that can’t escape from the routine of showing up to the same place, same seat, and same way of computing? Will it really take a decade or more to break free of our current way of thinking about computing? Can we move beyond the idea of tablets and mobile devices as our primary device – to our only device? Is Forrester spot-on in describing this transition, as one that just replaces laptops in our current paradigm? Mobility has more to offer than just a more productive and efficient way of working than a laptop. Do we have enough foresight to take advantage of it? Post a comment and let me know!

Benjamin Robbins is currently a Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at


  1. Posted May 7, 2012 at 17:39 | Permalink

    I am inclined to agree with your assessment on being addicted to lots of room on the screen. However, its not just that we are addicted to the big screens (I personally am a big fan of the dual monitor solution), but the multi tasking abilities that come along with having multiple screens. Having been a simple administrative aide in the past, I can tell you that there were aspects of my job that were nearly impossible with out being able to see multiple windows at once. Until they optimize my ability to see more than one application at a time on a mobile device or make it easier for mobile apps to pull in the information I need from other applications, mobile will not be optimized for industry.

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  2. Posted May 18, 2012 at 18:11 | Permalink

    Haven’t made the jump to a tablet only because it doesn’t include phone service. Excuse maybe??

    I have a couple of questions. I work with people that are not using your COPE approach but have a tablet and very restricted use of the tablet. You obviously are now looking back after a paradigm change. Will it be easy for them to just start using a mobile device as their only device if they were allowed to?

    I have a Samsung Galaxy S. I’ve found Onlive Desktop on the iPad to be useful, but it isn’t available on android. Any suggestions?

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    • Posted May 23, 2012 at 13:58 | Permalink


      Thanks for the questions – In regards to those using tablets. I think the screen size puts them at an advantage to go ‘mobile-only’. I find that with the addition of a keyboard most people are off and running.

      As to your second question – the office suite situational on Android is challenging. There are office suite apps that you can use, such as Quickoffice and OfficeSuite 6. These apps produce office compatible document. One feature that is largely absent from an enterprise perspective is Track Changes (and until recently spell-check). These tools are improving quickly but aren’t quite there yet.

      Let me know when you take the plunge and go ‘mobile-only’! Would love to hear your experience.

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  3. Posted July 27, 2012 at 00:16 | Permalink

    Good post, Benjamin. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but felt compelled to leave a comment. Before getting to my comment, it’s worth noting that I naturally include tablets in with the mobile category.

    I disagree on the screen size logic. If we break up the different levels of “doers” to 3 tiers, individual contributors, managers, and executives then each will naturally have separate requirements from their BI solution. Where I most agree is the individual contributor tier, as in this case most are relying on a large screen size or potentially multiple screens. However, as we climb the ranks recent studies show that managers, and especially directors are using tablets and other mobile technology more.

    Does this mean that Business Intelligence should primarily be used by executives? Not necessarily. As Robin mentioned multi-tasking on a mobile device has to improve in order for her use-case.

    However, I dont think it’s too far of a leap to recognize that executives are increasingly using mobile technology and will demand going forward to have a reporting solution that at least gives them the capability to be “mobile only”

    Robin – I would suggest checking out Trendslide ( It’s a new startup (full disclosure, I’m one of the co-founders) and may not have all of the necessary connections right now but it’s something we’re working on.

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