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The Square Peg Round Hole Mobile Ecosystem

Mobile Only: Week 30

Benjamin Robbins, an EMF member, is spending the next year working solely from a single mobile device. Each week he shares his thoughts and experience with us on what it means to be mobile-only.

I’ve been working on a project this past week where I needed to switch between my phablet (Android) and an iPhone (iOS). For this project I was editing and moving large files between the two platforms; specifically, audio and video files. Each platform had data and functionality that I needed to use. Neither platform had everything I needed. From the amount of struggling to perform what I would consider simple integration tasks, it quickly became apparent that I was in unchartered territory. I was trying to execute a use case that has not yet been addressed both by the apps and the OS. However, this use case doesn’t represent some fringe need. Successful ecosystems of the future must allow users to complete tasks without distinguishing between OS, apps, or form factor.

I wasn’t entirely surprised that switching between mobile operating systems proved to be challenging. From past experience I anticipated that. What was a little surprising were the wildly different experiences I had attempting to work with files between apps. For example, from app to app the import/export mechanisms and resultant formats varied greatly. Some could export to iTunes, some to e-mail, some to cloud file shares, and some you had to upgrade to even be able to export. With each app I had to devise a separate strategy on how to import and export depending on the function I needed. There was no standard of where data resided or how it got there.

We have reached basic maturity in our mobile user experience. We are at a point where the experience on a mobile device is good up to a certain point. There are some fantastic apps available in the market. We have apps that are intuitive (i.e., don’t require a user manual), have a sleek user interface, and are fun to use. We even have some basic integration with cloud services such as Box, Dropbox, and Evernote. But we are still working on getting to an enterprise context where data flow is as effortless and intuitive as app functionality.

What is a mobile ecosystem if it only plays well in its own milieu? One of the popular mobile platforms has a marketing slogan of “It just works.” I may be missing something, but my experience was anything but just working. It just worked if the only system it needed to interface was itself. Unfortunately, in reality, it just worked like a camping lantern in a lighthouse, like a Ford stereo in a Ferrari, like pretzels on a pizza; things could be contorted to make it work, but they definitely were not designed to go together. We need ecosystems where app, platform, and format disappear into the background and all that’s left is users getting the job done.

From an enterprise perspective, our endpoints are only going to continue to multiply. People will have many different devices that will have various form factors—from PCs, to laptops, to tablets, to phablets, to phones, to wearable computers. It is essential that data move seamlessly from one form factor to another and remain consumable, without conversion or constraint. I shouldn’t have to worry about converting a file. I shouldn’t have to be concerned that the formatting may be off from one device to another.

I don’t want to even tell you how many hours I wasted this week trying to move some files around. I may be just one person, but with mobility’s growth in the enterprise this ecosystem anemia will be greatly amplified. Left as-is it will represent untold loss of time, revenue, and opportunity. Productivity will take a serious hit if switching contexts is held captive to a square peg/round hole experience. The enterprise mobile experience will and must push us to think beyond the app and toward the ecosystem; toward the big picture rather than a function.

Benjamin Robbins is co-founder and 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 http://remotelymobileblog.com

One Comment

  1. Posted September 29, 2012 at 23:07 | Permalink

    Nice one! I suppose the incompatibility between the various platforms surfaced even before Android had gained prominence, the days when iOS was the new shining star and people were trying to access their Powerpoint presentations on iPhone and later iPad. Interestingly, even 5 years on the problem remains unaddressed.

    From a solution perspective though cloud based solutions like Slideshark and others try to mitigate the issue. This is just one example but the bottomline is, while it might still take some time for platforms to shake hands and show compatibility in the “native” mode, cloud based solutions which bridge these gaps really need to pick up. Interestingly, even in the enterprise mobility space we are starting to see demand for cloud based solutions meant purely to address inter-platform incompatibility. Probably that’s one piece which needs to be spruced up if we are talking to thinking of a bigger, more harmonious picture

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