The ideal Xmas gift for geeks and ‘I must-have-the-latest’ trendies

by Frank 25. December 2011 13:00

This is my idea of the ideal gift but to be honest I am not sure if it exists or even if anyone is planning to manufacture it. If the answer is in the negative then hello Apple and Samsung, put down your swords and shields (lawyers to the rest of us) and start spending those wasted hundreds of millions of legal dollars on something useful you can actually sell.

Frank’s law of the perfect mobile device says it must:

  1. Be light, weight no more than a pound or 0.5 kilograms. It should be like a really big oversize watch or maybe, next generation iPhone (come on Apple, where is the iPhone 5?);
  2. Be really cool to look at;
  3. Feel great in the hand;
  4. Be really easy to use;
  5. Be able to connect via 3G, 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and whatever comes next;
  6. Have a minimum 24 hour constant use batter life;
  7. Accept verbal commands;
  8. Have great quality sound;
  9. Have no more than 3 buttons (have a look at the Apple TV controller for the best example of design excellence, simplicity to the point of elegance – the perfect combination of form and function);
  10. Have a USB 2.0/3.0 port (Apple, why don’t we have this now?);
  11. Have a micro card slot (Apple again, please listen to us users);
  12. Attach to my person in way that makes it hard to lose (i.e., like a wristwatch or pocket watch on a chain or lanyard);
  13. Support soft and external keyboards;
  14. Have a touch screen;
  15. Provide variable form factors, probably by projection of both screen and keyboard – Microsoft demonstrated this functionality a couple of years ago and then seemed to lose interest;
  16. Have the ability to connect to external monitors and TVs;
  17. Have a generous solid state hard drive, minimum 128GB;
  18. Have an accessible file system (are you listening Apple? How about this for the iPad?);
  19. Have a native email client (are you listening HP?);
  20. Have a fully Flash/HTML 5 compatible web browser that isn’t limited and crippled (this is for Apple again);
  21. Have a fully functional but easy to use and non-complex operating system (iOS is fine but so is WebOS – I am not so keen on Android);
  22. Cost no more than $500 for a 128GB version;
  23. Work as a telephone and accept SIM cards (this is for HP – tell me again why the Playbook isn’t selling unless you slash the price?);
  24. Have a 10Mb camera or better;
  25. Have a processor powerful enough to support my workload; and
  26. Have enough memory to support my workload, say a minimum of 4GB

This is the ideal device because it replaces all the mobile devices I currently carry around. That is, notebook, Smartphone and tablet. It obviously must also have the functionality within the operating system to perform all the tasks I need to do and would normally do on my 3 current devices.

I will be able to carry it in my pocket or wear it on my wrist or even wear it like a fob or pocket watch on a classy gold chain. Maybe waistcoats will come back into fashion.

Innovative organizations will jump on the bandwagon and design cool accessories for it like a projection screen in a pen that you can unfurl and stand on your desk and hang on the back of the airplane seat. They will also design roll up keyboards in a pen that connect via Bluetooth and that sit flat once you unfurl them using advanced fabric memory functionality.

It actually isn’t hard to design our ideal device because all you have to do is think about all the frustrating missing features of your current devices; all the functionality you would like and need that isn’t there yet. This is why we all carry multiple mobile devices; because none of them do all the things we need them to do.

The vendors cannot tell us that they don’t have the design talent or technology because they patently do. They can’t tell us they can’t afford to build my ideal device because right now Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft are spending billions of dollars on lawyers for stupid, non-productive legal cases over simply absurd patent disputes. They are trying to earn their income from lawsuits in lieu of product sales.

Here is my message to the vendors, “give us the products we want and need and you won’t have to worry about profits, you will be swimming in money like that Disney character Scrooge McDuck.”

So Apple, HP, Samsung and others, where is my Xmas present?

What will our desktop and notebook replacements look like in 2 years’ time?

by Frank 18. December 2011 13:00

I have written previously about the growing dominance in the business world of mobile devices. I have also written about the need for a new or variable form factor for a new generation of mobile devices.

As an iPad and Smartphone user I already see desktop PCs and notebooks as archaic devices saddled with being too big, too heavy and having too many cables and connections. To me, my DELL Optiplex Desktop PC and DELL Precision notebook look like big, ugly, bulky, awkward museum pieces taking up way too much desk real estate even though they are current technology.

Please note that I run a software development company and that I am heavily involved in designing and developing application software products for Windows so I and my staff have little current choice in what hardware and software we use for our core tasks. We have Windows 7 PCs and notebooks and Windows Server 2008 R2 servers. We use Visual Development Studio 2010 and use SQL Server 2008 as our relational database. We are, as they say, a Microsoft shop and our legacy products are solid Microsoft .NET smart clients based on Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008 and the .NET Framework.

But, there are new boys on the block in 2011. We now also have Apple PC’s and develop in Xcode for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. We also develop Android applications for Smartphones and tablets like those from Samsung. We will shortly start adding our new apps to the Apple Store and the Android Marketplace.

Even in our Windows development projects we are moving away from .NET fat and smart clients and developing all future products as either web clients able to run in virtually any browser on virtually any operating system or native mode apps running under iOS and Android. None of my future products will require the Microsoft .NET Framework. In fact our current web based products no longer require the .NET Framework and are both browser and operating system independent; these are our models for all future developments.

These two changes (web and mobile) represent a paradigm shift of seismic proportions in the software development industry. The end result will be that my customers will shortly no longer need Windows PCs to run my applications. They will be able to run my applications on any device they choose. They won’t need Intel chipsets and they won’t need Microsoft’s desktop Windows operating system, Windows 7 for now and the much touted Windows 8 in the future. All my future products will be either web based clients or native mode mobile apps.

If most other software companies are following our lead then Microsoft has a very rocky road ahead come two years or so into the future.

True, we will still need Windows PCs and Windows Servers for software development and our customers will still need Windows servers; at least for the medium term.

There is an opportunity in the market for a non-Microsoft software development environment. That is, something other than Visual Studio and there is also a market opportunity for a new development language that allows common source code across multiple platforms.  No smart developer really wants to support multiple source code versions of its products; that is just redundant work and dumb.

Note that none of this is new. Fifteen years ago we were all developing thin-client applications using ASP and IIS. Twenty years ago we were developing applications for multiple platforms using common source code with languages like Pascal, C and MicroFocus COBOL. The pain in those days was the need to compile and test on all the different platforms we supported. We had white-coated acolytes running from one end of town to the other ‘borrowing’ different servers and operating systems to compile and build our products on all the machines and operating systems we supported. That part of the process I won’t miss and would not like to see repeated.

If Microsoft gets smart again, and in my opinion it is far from smart now, it will seize the opportunity and leverage off its best human assets to give us the truly platform independent language and development environment we all need. Maybe Bill Gates needs to come out of retirement and kick more than little ass at Microsoft; I for one would vote for that to happen. Microsoft’s future depends upon it changing its business model and getting ahead of the eight ball for the first time in a very long time. Winners aren’t chasers, winners are leaders.

Back to the topic; what will our desktop PCs and notebooks look like in two years’ time if everyone in the software development business follows our lead? The simple answer is they won’t look like anything because they won’t be on our desktops or on our laps at Starbucks. My end user customers will be using Smartphones and tablets and will have no need for clumsy, overcomplicated, heavy, antiquated PCs and notebooks. Home users will have also no need for PCs and notebooks and will no longer have to suffer because of all the troubles associated with these overcomplicated devices and unfathomable Windows. They too will be using Smartphones and tablets.

It will probably be another two years before us developers have alternatives to replace PCs for development and maybe another two years before we no longer need Windows servers. On this last matter the key factor will be Microsoft making SQL Server a cross platform solution as it should have done at least ten years ago. What we need is SQL server on Apple, SQL server on Unix, SQL Server on Linux, SQL Server on Android, etc. Mark my words; if Microsoft doesn’t do it, someone else will come up with a viable SQL Server alternative that is platform independent and software developers and customers will switch. Perhaps even Oracle will mend its ways and become a friendly partner? Then again, maybe it will snow in Sydney at Christmas.

Maybe I should have called this blog the future of Microsoft? The truth is that the only reason we are saddled with overcomplicated PCs and notebooks that suck up all our productive hours just keeping them running is because we all have to run the Windows operating system. Take away the need for Windows and you also take away the need for PCs and notebooks.

I think PCs and notebooks and Windows for that matter are already in their death-throes and I for one will not miss them; I have suffered for long enough. They are long past their use-by date and we have waited way too long for something smaller, faster, simpler and better.

The replacement devices will be the next generation of Smartphone and tablet devices probably powered by either iOS or Android; most of the current alternatives will simply die out.  Unlike today, we will have the choice of several form factors from pocket size to say 12 to maybe 14 inch (approx. 30 to 35 CM) diagonal. We may even have adjustable form factors using new technologies. We will have the option of wireless/Bluetooth keyboards just as we have now and we will probably use keyboards at work but not at home or when travelling, relying then on the soft keyboard. Everything will be Wi-Fi enabled and we will all be running much higher speeds than we are now. Everything will be lighter, easier to use and more stable. I can’t wait.


What is happening in Europe?

by Frank 14. December 2011 13:25

The following Morningstar article is worth reading because it is an excellent and timely analysis of the real problem and the EU’s total failure to do anything as well as its total inability to solve the problems of the European Union.

Basically, hundreds of billions of Euros in rescue funds but trillions of Euros of debt plus shrinking economies means the problem gets worse every day and can’t be solved other than by default which will bankrupt most of the major European banks. The tax revenues of European governments are falling far faster than their ability to cut costs. The longer they screw around with crisis summits and talkfests the bigger the problem becomes and the harder it will be to solve.

The European Union is finished and so is the Euro (an economically stupid and irrational idea to begin with; ignoring all the rules of currency valuations) – everything you see from the EU is just stalling and obfuscation in an attempt to keep the wolves at bay.

Europe will stagger along and sink lower and lower and end up with massive unemployment, over 25%, and deflation for at least the next 10 years.

My prediction is that Germany and France will negotiate a ‘deal’ that will screw all the weaker countries but try to protect Germany and France. It has already begun with the proposed changes pushed by Sarkozy and Merkel and rejected and vetoed by Cameron of the UK (he had no choice) – That’s why Sarkozy and Merkel are so mad at him; their plan wasn’t a rescue plan for Europe, it was a rescue plan for Germany and France at the expense of everyone else but the other European nations are both too stupid and too reliant on Germany and France to object.

Ergo, don’t rush out and buy a holiday home in Europe yet – much lower prices will follow soon but so will the massive social unrest that always comes with unemployment rates above 20% (which we are already seeing in countries like Greece and Portugal).

Australia is still the safest place to be because we are small and close to Asia and have lots of stuff Asia will want even with a slowdown in China and India. For once our isolation is a blessing as is living on the oldest continent on earth with all the mountains worn down and all those minerals close to the surface. The Chinese and Indian economies will continue to grow albeit more slowly (like 5% instead of 10% per year) because of their huge and rapidly growing populations.

Our biggest danger is our current government which is doing everything in its power to screw our mining industry and soon, every industry that is successful. I predict the next stupid thing they will try is a super profits tax on all industries (including banking) not just mining.

All the signals are flashing in the sky like a New Years’ fireworks show on Sydney Harbour. They are telling us to cut our costs and rein in spending before it is too late or we will end up in the same downward spiral as the European Union.  The time to begin was yesterday, not tomorrow.

However, just as in Europe, our politicians prefer to talk and spin and obfuscate and delay doing anything other than raise taxes and in doing so depress an already slowing economy. I think the only way to wake them up is by forcing another Federal election. Let the people have their say before it is way, way too late.

Message to Wayne Swann, the world’s greatest treasurer, “Wayne, just in case Treasury has not informed you, no one in history has ever taxed an economy out of a recession.”

Are we finally close to a paperless world?

by Frank 13. December 2011 13:42

Twenty five years ago I used to give presentations and seminars on how to achieve the paperless office. After a few years I stopped talking about the paperless office because it was patently obvious that it was not going to happen. I used to joke that unless governments outlawed fax machines, copiers and laser printers that it would never happen and so far I have been proven right.

We now use and store more paper than ever. All around the world off-site storage companies like Iron Mountain and Crown are building or acquiring hundreds of new off-site box storage warehouses each year as we continue to pulp trees into paper and then store the paper in boxes which we then ship off to warehouses and then forget about.

Even if we outlawed the storage of paper tomorrow we would still have trillions of pages stored for at least the next 50 years because of compliance reasons. We can’t even convert all this paper to digital images because the handling and conversion costs would be monumentally “this will bankrupt you” high.

So for existing paper at least it looks like we will be managing trillions of pages and hundreds of millions of archive boxes for a long, long time to come.

However, what about the use of paper in our normal working and personal lives? Will we still have newspapers and books and magazines and business letters and paper contracts in five years’ time?

Will we still buy paper tickets at bus and train stations? Will we still buy movie and theatre tickets? Will we still get paper receipts from stores and restaurants? Will we still use paper and cardboard for packaging and wrapping presents? Will we still take paper minutes to meetings and will we still print out documents to review? Not to mention the unmentionable, that is, what will we use in the bathroom to wipe our you know whats?

One of the reasons paper has not disappeared from our lives is that it is sometimes the absolutely best solution. In fact, paper isn’t bad; paper is a great invention with multiple uses and it has been of great benefit to mankind and it continues to be an invaluable, often irreplaceable product.

There is no doubt however that we use far too much paper in business and that much of it is unnecessary, wasteful and expensive. There is also no doubt that the digital technology necessary to replace a great deal of business paper already exists and in fact has existed for many, many years. The question is, why are we not utilizing it? This is the conundrum facing today’s businesses and government agencies; simply, “why are you not digitizing most of your paper processes when the technology is available and it would actually save you a lot of money?”

We thought the digital revolution would kill paper but it didn’t despite our best efforts over more than a quarter of a century. The pundits are now say that the mobile revolution will kill paper but will it? Will the iPad and iPhone and Kindle and mobile apps kill paper? Will the best efforts of the Obama government to digitize medical records and other areas of business kill paper in the USA? Has China mandated digital in lieu of paper; has India? What about the bankrupt nations of the European Union; where will they find the money to digitize their vast stores of paper?

The root problem with both business and government is that neither fixes things that aren’t broken and neither wants to spend money on something that won’t generate a profit in the short term. Both Wall Street and government bureaucrats have short attention spans; three months appears to be about the maximum time anyone wants to look ahead. For these reasons paper usage in both private enterprise and government is unlikely to change anytime soon; both have more important priorities and paper still ‘works’. So what is the future for our old friend paper in other areas of our lives?

Will we all be reading books on the latest Kindle in five years’ time or will the troglodytes stubbornly demand old-fashioned books? Will we all be reading the news on our iPads or Kindles in five years’ time or will there still be a place for paper newspapers and magazines? Will we all go to meetings with our iPads or Smartphones and forego paper minutes? Will retail establishments email or SMS receipts instead of printing them? Will we all have electronic signatures so contracts can be signed without paper and pen? Where will the raw material come from for paper airplanes and kites? How will we wrap our  birthday and Christmas presents? What will the English wrap their fish and chips in? Will we all have to follow the French or Japanese and install bidets or those awfully clever but worrisome robotised Japanese toilets (I certainly worry about all that mechanised hardware so near sensitive body parts)?

Personally I don’t think paper is going to disappear in a hurry. I do think usage will gradually fall, especially in business but I don’t see any “fall off the cliff’ sudden drop in paper usage in the next five years or so. In fact, I think paper manufacturers will continue to come up with clever and innovative ways to use paper.  How about disposable paper underwear, shirts, dresses and the like? How about electronic paper able to receive and display digital information? How about fibre-impregnated and baked paper car bodies? They would be cheap and easy to make and one hundred-percent recyclable.

We have to remember that if it wasn’t for the paper companies there would be far less trees in the world. Tree plantations provide the perfect sustainable resource and must surely meet every greenie’s best practice requirements. No, I do not have shares in any paper making company. I just happen to like trees and paper and I think paper is still a brilliant invention and often the absolutely best and most appropriate medium. I also don’t like reading books on the iPad or Kindle; give me a good old paper book every time thank you. I guess that makes me a troglodyte!

Maybe it will take a few future generations who don’t read books or newspaper or magazines but get all their information from the TV or their mobile device via RSS feeds to finally kill paper. If that happens it will be a sad time because then the population will be like trained rats; fed whatever information the powers to be want them to have.  

If this happens, we will have lost the ability and will to seek out and research information. The only information we will get is what someone else thinks is suitable for us (I could be talking about Google here) and that will be a very sad day for mankind. Let’s hope we do not allow this to happen. Unfortunately, these things have a habit of slowly creeping in over years so we don’t notice. I for one certainly don’t want to wake up in 5 years’ time and realize I am on a hundred-percent diet of ‘fed’ information and wonder how it happened. How about you? Maybe we should hang on to paper just a little bit longer.

What will be the real impact of the meltdown in Europe?

by Frank 8. December 2011 13:43

Banner headline today from Australian Financial Publications, “Spanish and Italian bond yields rose overnight after it was revealed that Italian banks had to borrow €153bn in emergency liquidity from the ECB in November, representing a 38 per cent rise on October and a near-quadrupling of requirements since June”.

“ECB may dig deeper into toolbox as leaders seek fiscal union” says new headline from Bloomberg.

“S&P warns about lowering credit rating amid Euro Zone Crisis” reports the French Tribune.

Listening to a variety of financial news channels and reading financial newsletters and publications only serves to depress us about the future of the Euro zone and Europe in general.

No one really expects Europe to avoid a major recession and no one really expects Greece or Ireland or Portugal or Spain to ever be able to pay back all the money they owe.

The more pessimistic of the experts warn of five to ten years of recession or deflation/stagnation and long term unemployment rates exceeding twenty-percent. The European welfare state is in its death throes but no one really wants to fess up how bad it really is. Germany is mad that those lazy southern Europeans are messing with its prosperity and France is mad because those same southern Europeans are screwing around with the new French empire; France being, as everyone knows, the heart and soul of Europe.

As Europe is the world’s biggest economy, bigger even than the USA, what does the current situation and even grimmer forecast mean for the rest of us who do not live in Europe? Will we still be able to buy a BMW, French wine and a Spanish sausage? Will they cost more or less? Will the boatloads of Asian refugees coming to Australia be replaced by fishing boats full of Spaniards, Portuguese and Greeks?

I have already heard from my friends, relatives and business associates who have visited Europe recently that it has become outrageously expensive and more than one of them referred to places like Greece and Ireland as “rip-offs”. I recently read that 14,000 fewer young Australians were able to enjoy a working holiday in the UK (long an Australian tradition for adventurous young Australians) because there simply isn’t any work, even for eager, hard-working Aussie backpackers. So where do these 14,000 young people now go? Do they come back to Australia and exacerbate our unemployment problem? Do they go the places like Bali and get arrested for smoking funny cigarettes?

Do tourists stop going to Europe because all the new and higher taxes and ‘opportunistic’ additional charges have made it just too unpleasant? If so, what happens to all the businesses in Europe that depend on tourism? Does it mean yet more European boat people for Australia? Will they all be happy to move to the far northern deserts of Western Australia eating dust and digging up iron ore for export to China? But, what if the pundits are right and China’s economy is slowing down and it stops buying shiploads of iron ore every day? Then where do our new immigrants go and where do they find work?

It is all a conundrum and its makes my head ache. It would help a lot if the leaders in Europe would actually start trusting each other and telling the truth but you know what they say about politicians and lying, “You can always tell when a politician is lying because his/her lips are moving.” All we know is that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

So we lucky Australians (and maybe a few lucky New Zealanders) need to start thinking ahead about how all of this will impact on our cosy lifestyles. We know we have the world’s greatest treasurer (he told us so) but he is a politician and I have already covered the trustworthiness of politicians in the previous paragraph.

It is not like we have somewhere better to go to. Right now Australia is the healthiest place to live by a proverbial mile but that also means there is no alternative, no escape hatch if the economy here starts to deteriorate. Greeks from Melbourne (once the world’s second biggest Greek city) certainly won’t be heading back to Greece any time soon and POME migrants like me (English to the uninitiated) sure as hell won’t be heading back to old Blighty.

With the exception of mining, agriculture and farming most Australian businesses like mine rely on the Australian economy. I own a software company and whereas we do sell in the UK, the USA and Canada most of our business is here in Australia. In the past when the Australian economy slowed down we could target overseas markets but that really isn’t an option now with most of the rest of the world in financial meltdown and the real costs of exporting higher than ever.

The bottom line is that those awful Europeans are going to continue to actually do nothing to solve the debt problems of European nations and their leaders will continue to obfuscate and pontificate until the house falls down. Unfortunately, our house is linked to their house so when Europe falls our economy will also be hard hit as the inevitable fall off in demand for Chines products from the world’s largest economy exacerbates the Chines slowdown and blows a hole in our mining boom. There go those billions of dollars the government is relying on from the new super profits mining tax.

Of course I could be wrong and I bet most of you hope that I am. I could have seriously misjudged the European leaders and a European boom could be just around the corner along with a surge in Chinese and Indian demand for our mining and agricultural products. There is also a chance I could wake up tomorrow younger, taller, better looking and smarter but to my mind both are pretty unlikely scenarios.

As we already live in the best country in the world, there isn’t a lot we can do other than work harder, work smarter, support Australian business (please, please stop outsourcing our jobs) and look after our family and friends. It is going to be a long hard haul but I believe in Australia and Australians so I am confident we will come out the other side a stronger and better country. In a funny way, this is our chance to grow in stature and become a much more important and powerful country. Let’s hope our leaders are up to the task.

What happens when all application work moves to mobile?

by Frank 7. December 2011 13:01

What needs to happen?

Just as dissatisfied end users drove the PC and networking revolution in the early 1980s (away from mainframe backlogs); end users are now driving the mobile revolution.

End users are telling IT departments what technology they want to work with and most IT departments have come to the conclusion that they have little choice in the matter other than to decide the security regime and hardware and software tools necessary to support the nominated mobile devices securely.

Software companies all over the world just like us are either shifting allegiances or covering their bets by investing in new genre mobile applications. In addition, a whole new software development sub-industry has sprung up that concentrates on new types of applications not previously seen on the traditional PC and notebook; it is a huge growth industry.

Traditional business application software developers are rapidly coming to terms with the new design paradigm for mobile apps, designed and architected to suit the capabilities of the Smartphone and tablet and slick enough and cool enough and easy-to-use enough to suit the demands of the mobile user. The message comes through loud and clear, make it too hard to use with too many options and too many steps and they won’t use it.

The mobile device has unique user interface requirements not just because of the characteristics of the device (e.g., the small form factor of a Smartphone) but the eminently reasonable and sensible demands of the experienced mobile user who wants something as slick and cool and intuitive as his/her other mobile apps. The app must also work seamlessly with the accepted and ‘standard’ way each type of mobile devices operates. If it runs on an iPad then it must look, feel and work just like every other iOS app; it cannot change the way a user works with his/her mobile device; it must employ a totally standard and familiar user interface.

The huge advantage of mobile apps is that no end user training is required. In fact, if an end user can’t figure it out immediately, the app will fail (back to the drawing board). I am not sure if industry has worked this out yet. That is, design the app properly and appropriately and no end user training will be involved. How many billions of dollars are we talking about in cost savings?

However, there is a caveat, and that is that when I talk about mobile apps I am talking about ‘native’ mobile apps; those that run under the mobile device’s operating system, e.g., iOS or Android.  I am not talking about what we call web apps or apps that run within the browser. Most web apps don’t look anything like the native apps and do not employ the same ‘native’ user interface. They look the same (or similar) under Safari on the iPad as they do running under IE9 on a Windows 7 PC. A lot do have special ‘cut-down’ versions to suit the much smaller form factor of a Smartphone but very few actually look like and work like true native mobile apps (e.g., something written in Xcode for iOS).

Web apps usually have significantly more functionality that native apps and they do require end user training, usually a lot of training.

Software developers will   eventually move away from now old-fashioned Windows application development (i.e., what we used to call ‘fat’ clients) but they cannot afford to move away from web application development because for a lot of applications, especially the larger and more complex applications like for example SAP, it is currently just not possible or practicable to convert all of the fat client functionality to native mobile apps; we just are not there yet.

Traditional fat client business apps are large, complex and have multiple screens, multiple menus, hundreds of features and thousands of options. This kind of application does not convert well to a native mobile app. For anyone who has ever worked with SAP, try to imagine re-implementing SAP functionality on a native mobile app and making it so easy to use it doesn’t require end user training. This could be what we euphemistically call a challenge.

In phase one of our mobile app revolution I believe we will see a hybrid model where big corporations and government roll out a combination of both native and web mobile apps. As the technology and tools improve we will see more and more appropriate functionality being implemented as native apps but not being removed from the web apps, at least not for a few years yet. This evolving paradigm needs developers and users to work together to discover what works best on mobile apps in native mode. We need to test and experiment but at least there will be little lost time waiting to see if end users accept our new ideas. The modern mobile user is adept at evaluating and deciding on an app within a few minutes and the weight of end user reviews will kill a bad native app faster than a live degausser resting on your hard drive.

The move to mobile apps also requires some significant improvements in communications. We are not going to be running our business over 3G; we must have at least 4G and/or high speed broadband and we must have the services universally available.

We also probably need the next one or two generations of mobile devices to be faster and smarter and to offer more variety and choice in form factor (i.e., screen size). The iPad screen may be fine for most things but its limited size makes it unsuitable for applications that require a lot of screen real estate.  Yes, you could always redesign the busy screen into several screens but that won’t suit the user who needs to see everything at once and there are lots of applications that need a lot of screen real estate to meet the particular needs of the end user; think stock markets analysis and financial trading and control monitoring applications (e.g., for a Power Station) that need single-view and very detailed dashboards.

There is also the unassailable fact that more and more of us are getting older and that presbyopia generally sets in at around forty five years of age. For the uninitiated, the first onset of presbyopia is usually when you discover that your arms are no longer long enough to read the morning paper. It is also when you start having trouble reading small print on any medium. The older you get the further out you focal distance moves until such time that you can no longer read fine print without the aid of eyeglasses. A little later, even the eyeglasses don’t help much and you really need bigger fonts and a larger form factor.

That is, just in case the makers of Smartphones and tablets are not listening, we older working folk would really like you to think about us when you are designing the screens and buttons of your next generation of mobile devices; thank you, your cooperation would be most appreciated. Thanks to the GFC a lot more of us older folk are going to be in the labour market for a lot longer.

The real impact of mobilization – how will it affect the way we work?

by Frank 2. December 2011 13:00

I spoke about the move to mobilization in a previous Blog but didn’t reflect on the impact to our working and personal lives. I have since been contemplating this topic and am starting to believe that the changes brought about by mobilization will be significant; perhaps even more significant that the changes brought about by the advent of the PC in the early 1980’s.

I also believe that a key factor will be the type of work we do. In essence, do you work with physical or electronic assets?

People who work with physical assets like records managers, nurses and storemen and dock workers will find mobile devices making their job easier but they will still need to be onsite at the workplace. People working with electronic assets (let’s call them knowledge workers) like stock brokers, electronic document managers, investment analysts and insurance brokers will also find mobile devices making their job easier but they will no longer be tied to the workplace.

Another major change will be work hours. Once again, professionals like nurses will need to work regular shifts because patients require 24 hour attention. Similarly dock workers need to be at the dock when a ship is loading or unloading. Knowledge workers however will not have fixed working hours though most will still have to be ‘available’ (electronically that is) during core times like the stock market opening times. The real issue with electronic workers will be extended working hours because they will always be ‘online’. This will be particularly true in international businesses like banking and finance because the world is open 24 hours a day.

Many sales people for example already work extended hours because of their mobile devices and either the need or desire to be always available to their customers and prospective customers. I guess we have all seen a friend or colleague leave a restaurant to find a quiet corner for an important business call long after the formal working day is over.

Sales people I know call this the good and bad news. The good news is that their customers can now contact them anytime and the bad news is that their customers often do contact them at any time of the day or night. Is this really the life we all want; is this the future we want?

Some people are addicted to mobile devices, you just have to watch the scramble to turn phones on once a plane has landed or wonder at the manners of people who conduct loud conversations on their phones in elevators and public transport. But what happens when the novelty wears off and it becomes a requirement, a mandate and not a choice? Will the future knowledge worker be happy to be on-call 24 hours a day with no protected private time? How will an employer compensate a worker for ‘booking’ his private time? Will we need a new type of employment contract and new employment laws to protect knowledge workers?

What about offices? If more and more of the workforce mobilizes will we need much less formal office space? Why do you have to come to an old-fashioned office if you are already online and working and servicing your customers? Why do you have to be at the office between 9 and 5 if you are literally on-call 24 hours a day? Will we end up with cities full of empty office buildings?

More importantly, how do you reserve and protect your quiet, off-line time? Do we need new software that captures and queues calls and communications during specified quiet time hours like sleeping or a birthday party for the kids? It seems to me that just setting an ‘Out of office’ notice is not really enough or appropriate; we need something more dynamic and more appropriate to this new working paradigm, something that manages all of our mobile devices and tools, not just our emails.

We can already guess the tools we will be using; Smartphones and tablets would be my best guess. Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will have a single device to replace the two or three we now all carry (e.g., phone, tablet and notebook). But, what about the ability to communicate effectively and with enough bandwidth? There are only so many seats in a Starbucks and there is only so much coffee you can drink in a day. 3G isn’t fast enough, 4G is still rolling out and mobile broadband cards are still a bit clunky, non-integrated and expensive.

Personally I believe the way forward is Wi-Fi, not cabled networks (copper and fibre) but worry that governments will both complicate and add cost to the process because of the need to control and charge for spectrum. We need the politicians to ignore the vested interest lobbyists and literally get out of the way of progress. I have experience of 4G in the US and its works really well, up to ten times faster than 3G and I also believe much faster speeds are possible and probable in the near future (5G in 3 to 5 years?).

However, back to you and your near-future working paradigm. Will you negotiate a new contract with your employer to adequately address your extended availability? Note that I didn’t say extended working hours because extended availability doesn’t necessarily mean that you work more hours per day. In fact, you could well end up working less hours a day if the work allocation is better planned and managed by workflow.

By this I mean that your boss has to plan and manage your workday much better than he/she does now. Your ‘tasks’ should be planned at least a week ahead and you notified by workflow. When you complete your daily tasks your workday is over. It will be your choice as to whether you will work like hell and complete all your tasks in the shortest possible time (thus producing more ‘free’ time) or take a much more relaxed approach and ‘embed’ your work tasks into your life so completion takes place over the full day, intertwined with your personal life. The boss just wants to know that the work gets done, presumably by midnight each day unless some tasks are time critical but in that case you would be aware of it because of the workflow details.

My conclusion is that we can’t move on to the new mobile working paradigm without much more extensive use of workflow to allocate and manage our days’ workload. Workflow software and new generation mobile devices and high speed Wi-Fi will be the enabling tools. The social impact and the new working paradigm, the relationship between you and your employer, are yet to be finalized. I really do believe that the next few years will see a quantum change in the way we are employed and paid and the way we combine work and personal life. Goodbye nine to five and hello to “I’m available.”


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