Stated simply, mobility matters. Workers today carry a myriad devices for both business and personal use. Often marketed as lifestyle devices, many are aimed at more affluent customers. For mobile workers today, these high-end gadgets are more than a luxury or toy. For many of us, they’re quickly becoming our primary computing platform. For those of us on the go, the smaller and lighter the better.
Here’s our ‘road warrior bag’ complete with laptop, digital cameras (video and still), multiple phones, Internet tablets, digital recorder and more. It also has to carry all the cords, adapters and batteries we need on a trip, assuming that we are travelling ‘fully loaded’.
The more information professionals can fit into one device the better. Hauling a camera, browser, email access, IM tools, contacts and calendar in a single pocket-sized device is a marvelous efficiency. And as a bonus, the device serves to make telephone calls.
The Shrinking Personal Computer
Laptop computers gave way to notebooks, sub-notebooks, tablet PCs, and most recently ‘netbooks’ have taken the world by storm. A small device like a Nokia N810 or the ASUS 900 c;eee c;PC is often seen as plenty of computer to get the job done. For many of us, even a notebook computer is seen as excess baggage. It’s something we only carry along when absolutely necessary.
These devices are clearly not cell phones, and while they commonly include some form of VoIP capability, they don’t connect to the cellular carrier network. These internet tablets most commonly use WiFi technology, although Bluetooth, and recently WiMAX are both popular for specific market segments and uses.
Because the internet tablet is not a telephone, other add-ons are often included to provide support for voice services. Skype (www.skype.com) and Gizmo (www.gizmo.com) are both included in a number of different internet tablet solutions.
Another once indispensable business tool, the PDA, has all but faded from the scene. The Sharp Zaurus and Palm Pilot both soared to success based on the promise we saw in the earlier Apple Newton. No more. They’ve been swallowed inside the mobile phone today.
These devices are dropping in price every month, and become more readily available. The power of the CPU today enables WindowsXP or even Vista. We’re seeing portables that will likely sell for around $300 c;USD.
Smartphones and Handhelds
Mobile phones aren’t what they were just a couple of years ago. They’ve become portable multimedia workstations. The Nokia N-95 or the Apple iPhone are among the premier lifestyle devices for personal use, but they may not complete the picture. Many workers also carry a Blackberry or Windows Mobile device for work. For those who do, even these two devices are frequently viewed as irritants. We want a single device to do everything.
For many of us, the telephone is our single most important business tool. The phone network worldwide is mature, omnipresent, and just part of how we run our work day. People are social animals. We love to connect and talk, and we still rely heavily on our phones for those conversations.
We started calling them smartphones when they incorporated PDA functionality. That PIM combination of contacts, calendar and to-do list governs the day for many people. While there’s no universal standard on what a smartphone is, every vendor sells one in some form or fashion. Then again, who wants to advertise and sell a stupid phone? [Good point – Editor] We do all agree that the industry genre of smartphones includes capabilities far beyond basic cell phone technology. They aren’t built the same. They house a real operating system that can be identified, like the Symbian OS in Nokia phones. Whatever the OS, it delivers a consistent set of features and functions across product lines. And most importantly, allows for third party developers to create new programs, further enriching the functionality.
iPhone — The Hybrid Tablet/Phone
Apple introduced the iPhone to a huge fanfare, and it has only grown in popularity since. It’s a mobile telephone, but it’s an Internet tablet too. The iPod Touch is the reverse. It’s a tablet that you can force some VoIP capability into with software and the right headset. The iPhone interface dazzled users with the swipe of a finger or two. We discovered new ways to interact with a device in our hands.
While the iPhone certainly provides telephone capabilities, it also fits into the following category of Internet tablet as well. It’s a true hybrid, including both telephone and tablet computing potential in the same, small device.
BYOB — Bring your Own Broadband
It’s pretty common today at tech conferences and industry seminars to hear complaints about the event WiFi. Many people now carry 3G modems or tether their devices to a laptop as needed. BYOB (Bring Your Own Broadband) is an openly discussed strategy among event planners. As wireless broadband technologies have grown into 3G (third generation), the available bandwidth and reliability of service are approaching a quality threshold that may soon negate even the expectation that a conference sponsor should provide WiFi access. Many mobile professionals are simply using their routine wireless broadband for everything.
Just like the cell phone replaced the wired landline for many people, wireless broadband is truly enabling digital nomads who no longer seek a WiFi oasis. Instead, they bring the network with them wherever they go.
Our culture is very different to what it was in the industrial age. Our workday is no longer 9 to 5. It is also not impacted at all by the daylight hours as a carryover from the agricultural age. The information economy has changed how we work and live. We telecommute, but telecommuting no longer implies working from home. Some of us travel almost constantly for business. We’re digital nomads in many ways. The global economy of information work has utterly obsoleted the 24-hour clock. (My colleague David Petherick is editing this at 02:10am on a Monday at his local time, in Scotland, UK, while I’m asleep in Virginia, USA, before he drops the story into an Amsterdam blog for a 9am New York coffee-slot). Geography is irrelevant to information work. So is time of day. We work all hours of the day and night, often fragmenting work and personal life into digestible time segments. We time-shift work so that we can work with anyone we wish.
We always need to be connected to network resources. We require ubiquitous access to the telephone, the web, and email. As we’ve evolved, our climate of work has created an always on work style for many of us. We don’t simply time-shift work to accommodate global work. We place-shift it so we can work wherever we happen to be at the moment. Today we work anywhere and everywhere — office, home, Starbucks, hotel, airport, etc.
Productivity any time. Productivity anywhere.
The business tools we use every day have also changed. Instant messaging started out as a hobbyist toy. Today we use IM widely in business. Microsoft’s LCS (Live Communications Server) is often used as an internal IM chat tool in large businesses. Smaller companies look to other solutions like AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk and Skype. SMS or text messaging is quite common among working professionals. My partner Sheryl and I recently noted that between us, we send and receive over 30,000 text messages each month. Both increases, IM and SMS, are rising in usage driven by the penetration of smartphones. Social networking sites on the web provide everything from status updates (www.twitter.com, www.jaiku.com) to location or travel plans (www.brightkite.com, www.dopplr.com and now, as recently covered here on The Next Web, www.google.com/latitude/) to networking in depth (www.facebook.com, www.linkedin.com).
In a recent paper, I summed up the blend of mobility, ubiquity and the always on culture this way:
As the tools of mobility penetrate our daily lives, simplicity becomes more and more vital. But simplicity carries a price tag of complexity. That dichotomy can be misunderstood. Achieving simplicity with integrated tools requires planning, foresight and a methodical approach to achieving what really matters in our lives.
The best part of all? We are in control. Any time, any place, any where.