Change does not equal progress, but look how shiny it is! I mentioned in a previous post that I was questioning mobile tech and its ability to create progress in the workplace. The more we deal with this new mobile tech, tablets and smartphones specifically, the more it seems that it’s like taking two steps forward and one step back.
The act of changing technology is definitely not progress by itself. So you need to decide if this new technology that you’ve changed to is an improvement. So if we talk about iPads specifically and the idea of replacing notebook PCs with them, what has improved? I think the answer is:
- Less fragmentation
- Less distance between you and your work
Mobility: It’s a total no-brainer that mobility is improved right? You’ve gone from carrying around a carrying case with a (possibly heavy) notebook PC inside to carrying a very lightweight tablet. It’s much more mobile than the previous tech.
Less fragmentation: With PCs (including Macs), you’ve got all these different versions of equipment floating around, including hardware and software. Accounting for all variations and troubleshooting becomes a nightmare. When you’ve switched to an iPad instead of these different iterations of notebooks, you’ve removed mostly all of that trouble. And I guess this really only applies for iPads currently as there’s all kinds of Android tablets out there.
Familiarity: Many users already are familiar with iOS, and if not, this is a good place to start as it’s really built to be user-friendly. Most of this is accomplished by limiting the user, but let’s face it, most users need those limits or they’ll be overwhelmed. This familiarity means that they should be able to just pick up this tech or new, similar tech and use it right away, already having the knowledge and experience of using this type of interface.
Less distance between you and your work: There’s probably a better word to describe this, but what I’m referring to is that interaction between what is on screen and user’s own body. On a computer, I have to click keys or a mouse or maybe even a tablet with a pen. But none of those are (usually) directly on the screen. Working with touch or a stylus directly on a mobile device simulates interaction that we’ve been doing all of our lives, like a pen on a paper. It can really add to the quality of control and comfort of working on a device.
I think those are the heavy hitters as far as improvements. But that’s only one side of the coin. There are really a lot of features that you are letting go of by switching to some new mobile tech:
- File management
- Screen real-estate
- Software complexity
File Management: ”Pass me that USB drive with the files on it. I want to put that stuff on my iPad.” BZZT! Guess who will be doing that anytime soon? That’s right, nobody. “Ok then, just email it to me, I’ll save it to my… um… I’ll save it in my email.” Unless you are savvy and use something like DropBox or iBooks or some other app to save files, you are stuck looking for that file on the web or in your email or some other place. If you are reading this, it’s probably not a big deal for you, but for someone who is not used to using mobile tech, this may be a problem. Or at least a source of confusion.
Screen real-estate: This is less about resolution and more about physical size. A mouse pointer can be pretty precise, but a finger or stylus can be a little fuzzy as far as where it interacts with the screen. This means you have to keep interface elements larger to retain accessibility. There are clever ways around this, (hiding elements, accordian elements, etc) but it remains a tricky spot for mobile.
Software Complexity: I use Adobe Ideas and love it. But I know that if I really want to dig in to an illustration, I’m better off using desktop software. I’m sure the same holds true for almost any other type of software. Imagine editing a complex spreadsheet on a touch device and then imagine the headache medicine you’ll need afterward.
I’m sure there are things I’ve missed or will soon discover, but those are the major points I think of when talking about mobile tech and the question that has been bugging me lately: is mobile tech progress or is it just change?