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One Device To Rule Them All?

I’ve had the same conversation a number of times over the last few weeks. Business groups or even IT groups that have set a goal to move all of their users to one device within the next year and a half. You can’t blame them really. As tablets have started to overtake PC/Laptop sales, most manufacturers are trying to push the fact that their device is the only one that your users will need. You have the Lenovo Twist/Yoga/insert name here, the Samsung device that is a Windows laptop until you turn it around and it’s an Android tablet, and of course Microsoft with their Surface, which is a hybrid trying to be everything.

There’s a problem with this approach. It is very hard to be a Swiss Army knife when it comes to people and computing. All of these devices are solutions in search of a problem that while it may exist, isn’t the right problem to be solving. There are three aspects to this problem.

The first is the manufacturers, they’re getting eaten alive by tablets, and especially iPads but Android tablets are coming on strong. They decided on a two-prong approach to the issue. The first was to create enterprise ready tablets that no one wanted. They were too big, too heavy, too flimsy and just didn’t make sense except for specialized areas. Their second approach to the problem was to create some sort of hybrid, either a Windows device that could be a tablet or a laptop or else a Frankensteinian monster that could be an Android device or a Windows device depending on the how someone used it. The problem with these devices, apologies to Mel Brooks, is that their brain was taken from Abby Normal. They end up with too many compromises to use by the every day consumer.

The second aspect to he problem is IT and the Business. IT looks at it as a support issue. It must be cheaper and certainly much easier to support just one device than to give the user two devices, with possibly different operating systems, that must now be supported. This should cut down on support calls, and makes it easy to replace any hardware when there is a problem with the device itself. The Business looks at it from an expense view and sees one device as cheaper and falls into line with IT on support. They also don’t have to worry about developing two applications for two different devices. The problem with both of these cases is they haven’t addressed the real issue.

The third aspect of the problem is what should be the first thing considered in this case and the real issue. What makes the most sense for the users? In the end, it’s your employees who do the work that makes you profitable (or not). Their goal is to be able to do their work, in the easiest way possible, when they need to do it and where they need to do it. It’s all about them becoming more flexible and agile so they can work the way they want, which is the promise of mobile in the first place. When mobile is done well, they get the knowledge that they need, when and where they need it, so that they can be more productive and efficient in getting their job done. To be fair, they don’t want to carry around a lot of devices, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want more than one device. The operative phrase for them is “carry around”. It is a pain to lug a laptop and a tablet around. On the other hand, they want the right tool to get the job done.

This is why I believe in the next 2 years we still won’t be able to get to one device for all users. A tool is the combination of an app and a device that work synergistically to allow people to accomplish their tasks. Some devices are better in some situations than others but that doesn’t mean that we can depend on only one device. The question becomes one of enablement and how does that enablement allow your organization to move forward and prosper.

Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to shoehorn your users into one device, whether it is a Windows hybrid device or a tablet that uses VDI to access Windows apps, but those are all compromises that hinder the true enablement of your users. There are also some users whose sole function will only require them to have one device, as they don’t need both windows apps and mobile apps.

More interestingly, I also don’t think that a two-device solution has to be more expensive. It of course depends on the devices that you choose, but hybrid devices are extremely expensive when they are enterprise ready but a laptop and a tablet can come in much cheaper. What becomes more tantalizing though, is the savings in costs when you move towards a mobile first development approach. Remembering that mobile first doesn’t mean mobile only, but rather focusing on the user needs and simplifying your apps to meet those needs on the devices they are using. As you move from phone to tablet to PC you may see the app gain more functionality but that’s because the total tool, app and device, are different and the use case changes as you move between them. The time has come to embrace the tools we have and enable our users versus moving to a strategy that we think works better without taking the users into account

One Comment

  1. Posted January 9, 2014 at 06:18 | Permalink

    Hi Brian,

    I came across your article today. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help thinking why should devices be hybrid? How about we make the apps hybrid. Wouldn’t that be a better option? Here is something I have written on Hybrid Apps: http://mlabs.boston-technology.com/blog/what-are-hybrid-mobile-apps

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