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iPads, Consumption and Creation, and the Future of Enterprise Software
Joshua Greenbaum Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting
NOV 20, 2012 14:58 PM
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Several months into my experiment with Windows 8 on a Samsung Slate tablet, I now
have answers to three important questions about the past, present and future of tablet
computing, the so-called post-PC era. They’re questions worth asking, as the answers
spell trouble for Apple and Android, and provide evidence of a new lease on life for the
troubled PC, albeit a reincarnated convertible tablet/PC like my Slate.
At first blush, the questions may not be what have been bedeviling your IT or line
of business decision-makers over the past few years. I admit I hadn’t thought about
them or the market in quite that way either. But playing and working with Windows
8 has made me realize more than a few things about PCs, tablets, and what market
leadership will mean in these two markets in coming years.
First questions first: Why does the native browser on the iPhone and iPad suck?
It’s well-known that the browser experience on these devices is less than sterling, and
that’s without the problem of not supporting Flash. Having spent the last few months
using a tablet running a full-fledged browser that is actually optimized to work as a
browser (IE 10 on Windows 8, to be specific), I’ve finally figured out what must have
been going on in Steve Job’s mind when he decided to limit Safari’s effectiveness on
the iPad and iPhone.
Here goes: I’ve noticed over the last few months that the more I use the Slate the less
I am tempted to bemoan the lack of native Windows 8 apps for the device, (Microsoft
is claiming 12,000 Windows 8 phone apps, compared to a jillion or two for iOS). In
fact, it seems that I can pretty much do anything I need to do on my Slate that I would
otherwise have done on my iPad.
That’s because it turns out that having a great browser on the Slate means I can
access virtually all the functionality I need from a web page, instead of running a
specialized app to perform the task. No need for an app to check public transit, the
weather, airplane schedules, my Amazon account, listen to my local PBS station, check
out Twitter, Box, or any other service I have a subscription to. I just point a browser – or
better yet a bookmark – and away I go.
Amazingly simple, no? And it’s not like I’m out there mousing and keyboard my way
back to the 20th century either. I still having a full tablet user experience, swiping and
pinching and otherwise doing that multi-touch thing that Apple pioneered.
Which leads me to the answer to my first question: the browser on Apple’s mobile
devices sucks because if it didn’t, Apple wouldn’t have been able to build up its massive
apps market. Okay, browser apps would have had to smart enough to do a better job
of differentiating form factor (a la HTML5) between phone, tablet, and desktop, and it
would have been really hard to monetize a browser-based tablet market the way the
Apple Store has helped monetize the Apple Apps market. But fundamentally, if the
iPhone and iPad really handled all web sites, supported Flash, and otherwise behaved
as well as IE 10 on my Slate, Apple probably wouldn’t be dominating the mobile market
through the closed iOS apps store the way it does today.
On to question two: Why is a device designed primarily for consumption the wrong
device for the enterprise?
One of the truly great things about the Window 8 experience has been the ability to
go back and forth between desktop and touch mode interchangeably. Some of this is
a simple matter of using the touch screen to scroll up or down, zoom in and out, and
otherwise navigate a document on the screen as part of the creative process. It almost
sounds trivial, but it’s really useful. (Point in fact, ergonomics make this work only on a
laptop/tablet device: the big touch screens on desktops PCs are too far away from the
keyboard to be ergonomically useful.)
Importantly, some of the usability is very much non-trivial. The ability to use Office
2013 in full keyboard mode, typing my little heart out in Word 2013, and then go into
tablet mode and navigate to a different desktop app or browse on the Windows 8 Metro
browser is something I can’t do on an iPad. Indeed, flitting back and forth between
multi-touch tablet mode and heads-down keyboard mode turns out to be a significant
usability improvement over either pure tablet or, more obviously, pure desktop. While
Mac Air users have some of this ability, and those who are good at it can do some
amazingly things with the touch pad, it’s not the same has having a full touch screen,
not by a long shot.
This experience with the Slate has shown me that creating a demarcation line between
consumption devices like the iPad and creation devices like the PC was a “mistake”
for the enterprise that served Apple well in terms of creating a new cool device, a new
market, and a new revenue stream. But it serves the enterprise much less well in terms
of creating an artificial distinction where one need not exist at all. Windows 8 is going
to prove that the enterprise customer can have both, and that, unlike two heads, two
interaction modes really are better than one.
Which leads me to the final question: why is the real tablet revolution not about mobile
at all?
Mobility is a convenience that we have come to take for granted, but we’ve had
mobility for decades. I had a laptop in 1990, a cell phone in 1994: that revolution went
mainstream a long time ago. The real tablet revolution was about multi-touch, not
mobility, and with that tactile experience we’ve discovered a new way to improve the
user experience that, while it found its first mainstream expression on the tablet and
smart phone, need not be limited to those devices.
Limited is the word, because the consumption-only, consumer-based design goal of
the iPad placed limits on the degree of functionality that could be covered by an iPad
app. As I have stated before, it’s somewhat fantastic to think that a CEO could run his
or her business on an iPad – there’s just not enough functionality, firepower, or flexibility
in this generation of tablet to make that a reality. It works great in sales, relatively good
in retail, and self-service HR apps run well in an iPad too. But the artificial barrier of
consumption-only means that there are limits, real limits, in what you can really do with
these devices.
Indeed, this is where the real advantage of Windows 8 lies: it enables an existing
desktop experience (and the megatons of enterprise software based on that
experience) to live another day in a hybrid tablet, while enabling a new generation of
software based on multi-touch creation and consumption to redefine the enterprise
software experience.
Which is why I’m actually unimpressed with what I see in the Windows 8 store today,
not because it’s relatively threadbare by the standards Apple and Android have set, but
because I have yet to find that killer hybrid app that will bridge the creation/consumption
divide and show just how valuable a hybrid user experience can be and how limited,
by extension, the iPad user experience has been. But it’s coming, inevitably. Cloud
pioneers like Box, and enterprise stalwarts like SAP, are looking seriously at Windows
8, and not because they want to make Microsoft happy. They see this experience and
the devices it will support as a major new platform for functionality, and they’re voting
with their development dollars to bring these new apps to market. Needless to say,
but I’ll say it anyway, Microsoft Dynamics is also busy trying to make their offerings fit
the “killer app” opportunity with Windows 8.
What does this mean for the enterprise going forward? The most important issue
is that software development and the expectations that enterprises have for their
user experiences need a quick refresh before too much is invested in buying iPads.
It’s not enough to have your vendor promise a killer iPad app to satisfy your mobile
user fan base. You should be demanding, and the vendors should be providing,
multi-touch-based enterprise apps that can live in the mobile and the desktop world
interchangeably. This creation/consumption experience, not the iPad’s consumption-
only experience, is the future of computing in the enterprise.
I’ll end on a final note about the next generation of enterprise employee, as personified
by my almost 9-year daughter, who so far in her career has “worked” in Windows XP,
Windows 7, iOS, and now Windows 8. Her go-to device today is the Slate, though from
time to time she still plays Pet Hotel on the iPad (unless she’s online with a friend, in
which case she’s on a PC). Though she doesn’t articulate her preferences with the
historical perspective of her father, it’s clear these preferences are formed from the
same observation: the Slate and Windows 8 offer all the best of a desktop experience,
and all the best of a multi-touch tablet. In her vast experience, and mine – and one day,
I believe, yours –the iPad just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Joshua Greenbaum
Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting
Berkeley, Calif.
Joshua Greenbaum has over 30 years of experience in the industry as a computer
programmer, systems analyst, author, consultant, and industry analyst. Josh regularly
consults with leading public and private enterprise software, database, infrastructure,
implementation, and hardware companies, and advises end-users on technology
infrastructure and applications selection, development, and implementation issues.
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