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5 Places Where Mobile Might Not Yet Be the Right Solution

March 14, 2013 No Comments

If you’ve been to any IT conference in the past two years, or picked up any analyst report, or read any trade journal, you can be forgiven for thinking that the entire world is being swept clean of traditional PCs by mobile devices.

Indeed, the market numbers are grim for PCs – Gartner, for one, points out that PC vendor sales dropped by close to five percent during 2012, a time when consumers and enterprises alike are enamored with tablets and smartphones.

There’s no question that mobile devices are making a lot of jobs easier and helping to enhance communication in many businesses. But, it’s also a good time to step back and ask what impact this has on enterprises and their technology strategies. Is every situation suited to mobile? Is there still a place for PCs?

First, some semantic points to consider. There actually isn’t a clear distinction between PCs and “mobile devices.” The lines are actually kind of hazy here. With a tablet computer, a keyboard and mouse can be added, giving you the same form factor as a laptop, even with many of the same applications. Why is this not considered to be a PC, whereas a netbook, which may be the same size, is in the PC realm?  So, is moving from a Windows 7 laptop to a Windows 8 tablet actually a move to “mobile,” or has the laptop been a mobile device all along?

What is “mobile” anyway?  That’s another good question from Karolina Szczur in a recent article, concluding that “fundamentally, ‘mobile’ refers to the user, and not the device or the application.” So mobile means the user is on the move somewhere – but it could be with a laptop PC or a tablet or a smartphone. (Or even lugging a desktop PC, if they’re so inclined.) “Mobility is strictly connected to the user and situation they’re currently in, not to the piece of hardware they’re using,” Szczur writes. “This easily leads us to the conclusion that what really matters is the context, not the device. “

With the semantics out of the way, consider what types of work situations where mobile may or may not be suitable. Before you throw out those PCs (in the traditional sense of the word), consider where PCs are still the best option:

1. Contact centers: Situations in which end-users need PCs and large screens tied to a corporate network and datastreams, to enable them to rapidly eyeball information, assess customer accounts, address their problems, and upsell or cross-sell new offerings. I can’t ever imagine calling in with a problem with my account to a representative working off a smartphone. And if they had all my data on that smartphone, what happens at 5:00 when they walk out the door with it?   Which brings me to another situation where traditional PCs still make more sense.

2. Secure data operations: The risk with mobile devices (and laptops for that matter) is that employees and contractors could walk out the door with sensitive information. BYOD (bring your own device) is a security headache that organizations are just getting their arms around. It isn’t worth it trying to fight the use of small personal devices in the workplace – but applications with sensitive data need to remain resident on the corporate system.

3. Extended computing sessions: By “extended,” I mean more than eight hours. Mobile devices depend on battery power, and unless there’s a place to plug in, they won’t make it through a full business day of intensive computing.

4. Heads-down report preparation: Most professionals need to spend a good part of their jobs writing reports, and in some professions, end-users are at their keyboards all day long writing white papers, articles and perspectives. The thought of writing a 30-page white paper on a smartphone just seems utterly painful.

5. Programming and research work: As with report writing, just thinking about squinting at a small screen all day long makes my eyes water. For programmers, having two large dual screens to look across a code base is an incredible productivity tool. Ditto for researchers, who need a lot of pertinent data displayed or visualized right in front of them.

Just to make one thing clear: the PC and mobile device worlds are colliding, and will ultimately converge into one. PCs – even the desktop variety – will inevitably all have touchscreens, perhaps the detachable kind that Microsoft now promotes with Surface. Whether they are called PCs or tablets or something else, they will all be part of a continuum of devices, ranging in size from pocket-sized to desktop. If you can hook an Android phone up to a 17-inch monitor and keyboard, how different will that be from a desktop PC?

To reiterate what Szczur says, mobile is about the user, not the hardware.

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent researcher, covering innovation, information technology trends and markets.  Much of his research work is in conjunction with Unisphere Research/ Information Today, Inc. for user groups including SHARE, Oracle Applications Users Group, Independent Oracle Users Group and International DB2 Users Group. He is also research analyst with GigaOM Pro Research.

He is a regular contributor to, and well as a contributor to CBS interactive, authoring the ZDNet “Service Oriented” site, and CBS interactive’s SmartPlanet site.

Joe is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto, which outlines the values and guiding principles of service orientation in business and IT.

In a previous life, he served as communications and research manager of the Administrative Management Society (AMS), an international professional association dedicated to advancing knowledge within the IT and business management fields. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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