We are entering unchartered territory when it comes to surveillance because of information broadcast from our smartphones even when they're off. Right now, it's the NSA collecting this data, but as computing power gets ever cheaper, it could be your local police or even the store you just entered.
Actually, you don't need a PC to do "real work"
A notion persists among many analysts, IT pros, and even users that you can't work productively on a mobile device, especially smartphones because of input and screen size limitations. I believe this is a false premise based mostly on a lack of imagination about the ways we work, especially when thinking about Microsoft Office and heavyweight enterprise applications.
If we start to rethink work applications in mobile terms, we can begin to develop highly useful apps that let us get work done on the fly, on any device.
In fact, Microsoft's entire mobile strategy is based on the idea that mobile devices have failed to this point in business because the have not allowed us to do "real" work. From Office 365 to the snap-on keyboard on the Surface tablets, the whole idea behind Microsoft's approach is to recreate the PC experience on a mobile device. But this entirely misses the point of creating a new way of working that takes into consideration the mobile experience that takes advantage of the strengths of touch devices.
If we could produce tools that push content to you, that are designed to limit input by typing; if we could rethink applications from ones that were created for a PC with a keyboard and a mouse to ones on a smaller screen using mostly the tip of your finger, then we could begin to take advantage of this medium and move beyond the PC era to an era of mobile work.
As a simple example, I began this post in iOS Notes, and as I typed with my fingertip, the program anticipated the words, greatly reducing my typing effort. For all the grief iOS autocorrect garners, it worked remarkably well to reduce the number of taps it took to generate this work.
But such an approach still relies on PC thinking, perhaps simplifying it a bit, but not appreciably changing it.
One obvious answer is to develop better voice recognition. Then we don't have to type. But leaving aside the difficulty of actually building a reliable voice recognition tool -- Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all taken shots, and all are still wanting -- there are way too many instances where using your voice wouldn't work. Can you imagine everyone sitting in an airport terminal waiting for a plane, or at the coffee shop muttering to themselves as they create a document?
Presentations on the fly
No, reinventing mobile productivity requires something more than simply talking. It requires a new way of thinking, of creating workflows that require far less entry.
I looked at one such product this week called Seismic LiveDocs. Seismic has basically created a tool that can work across platforms and that pushes information from various sources into a presentation template. Their primary use case right now is financial services, but CEO Doug Winter told me other types of clients are using it, including pharmaceutical customers.
You can still save the final document in your precious PowerPoint, but instead of having to create or recreate a presentation for each customer in PowerPoint, Seismic does a fair amount of the work for you. You start with templates, which Winter claims a non-technical manager can set up with a series of options without help from IT. With a fixed template design, it reduces the amount input required to produce the work.
Consider the financial services use case. You have a meeting with a client. You take out your tablet or smartphone, open a template, and begin very quickly to build a customized presentation. The system presents a simple form and you can build the presentation by making a series of choices; the template automatically fills in your custom information based on your choices in the presentation template. Very little typing is required.
It might pull customer information from Salesforce or other enterprise system, or the most recent stock or mutual fund pricing from Morningstar.com. It could produce house values from Zillow or employee contact information from the HR system.
After you make your choices, the system compiles a presentation with your branding for you that you can share with the client on screen, by email, or through Chatter if you're using the version in Salesforce. You can even print a hard copy for the client to take along. In this case, you are far more likely to use a tablet than a smartphone, but you could potentially create it on the phone and later pick it up on your tablet, or PC. or laptop when you met your clients.
It's worth noting there aren't specific LiveDoc apps for Android and iOS yet, but you can access an HTML5 version in your browser.
Mobile requires a different way of thinking
It turns out that most IT departments no longer want to buy, install, and run software on their own servers, and the ancillary benefits of the cloud -- like easier mobile access for workforces that combine full-time employees and contractors -- seal the deal.
Adding to a string of announcements aimed at making its service more appealing to businesses, Dropbox this morning said that Dell will start selling the service to its customers.
The battle over which platform delivers the best location and context services to mobile users is already underway with Google in the lead, but Apple's purchase of mapping startups and social analytics firm Topsy, combined with its Bluetooth-based iBeacons could give Apple a strong chance.
Box is experiencing some good times these days with new features, new funding and a high profile CEO, but Box has to be careful as it grows to say true to its root and not fall into the trap becoming just another enterprise software company.