Friday, January 29, 2010

The Communication Revolution and Device Overload

Apple recently announced it's long rumored iPad tablet device. With all the buzz the announcement is creating, it reminded me of another modern communications issue I have;  too many devices!

The explosion in device technologies and types is a major part of the communication revolution and the challenges it presents to us.  The communication revolution is driven by new communication modes being adopted today; social networks, texting, IM, video, blogs, RSS feeds and more.  It's also driven by the emerging new devices and technologies, especially smart phones, and the ever advancing capabilities they are giving us.  We have smart phones, business desk phones, laptop/desktop PCs, netbooks, notebooks, eReaders, tablets, music players and more to choose from.

Device consolidation is likely and would be welcome. What should that look like?  Device overload is nearly as impacting to me as communication and information overload and the social impacts of the communication revolution that I've written about before. 

The devices I have today and how I use them
1) Laptop/desktop
This is the device where I do the bulk of my direct work output - especially content creation and editing.  This applies at the office, home office, or if I'm traveling on business.   It also applies to my personal computing use.

It's the device with a large enough reading screen, real keyboard, and most importantly the full financial, presentation, and document apps typical information workers use.  It's the device that fully connects me into my business applications and data.  It's the best device I currently have for collaboration or "web conferencing" as well as video viewer (e.g. YouTube).  Finally, it is what I use today for video calls, both internal business and Skype, but I find the quality lacking.

1B) Notebook and Netbooks
I don't currently have one of these today but they are worth mentioning.  These devices have similarity to laptops in the end functions and applications they provide.  They tend to be less expensive, lower performing, have longer battery life and be more compact and mobile than the laptop.  The mobility is the likely driver for these devices in this ongoing communication revolution.  These devices are far more reliant on network connections, especially WiFi and Cellular, and the cloud computing model.

2) Smart phones
This device, perhaps more than any other technology, is the single largest driver of the social change in communication preferences and behavior.  This device is essential to me for being "partially" connected to the office and/or personal communications all in one.    It gives me the ability to communicate, read email, text messages, and access many other forms of data primarily in "read" mode due to its small screen size.  It also gives me some access and use of my business Unified Communication applications that help make the smart phone a good mobile extension of my business communications.  Of course you can also remain connected to your social networks, blog feeds etc. if you so desire.  Many do.  I don't due to the overall distraction it generally creates.  One of my tips for controlling information overload - disconnect!.

I describe smart phones as "partially" connected since I don't have the full capability to create/edit content all that well.   It's not a replacement for my business communications, or PC/laptop.  In exchange for mobility and compactness, they don't offer me the screen size, comfortable keyboard, or complete applications to actually "work" on.  The smart phone is the device I need when I am in mobile and/or personal time/communications mode.   I am "monitoring" communications and data but not expecting to create or edit material.

Smart phones have also brought a "fun" aspect to communications.  Games, sports and event monitoring and alerts, location services and so much more.

An issue with smart or cell phones; do you want or have to carry two?  One personal and another that your employer provides?  Doesn't help the device problem at all.  No obvious solution here if you have too much business traffic for your personal number, or too much personal traffic on your business phone.  I for one am not happy with carrying two and the cost implications on my personal plan if I don't carry two.  I'd love to map two numbers and two usage plans to one device; one paid by me, the other by my employer.  Just a thought.

The rapid emergence of smart phones may be the biggest change driver in today's communication revolution.  Unified Communication applications need to keep pace to help us manage communication overload.  My thoughts on how can be found here.

3) The Business "Phone"
My VoIP-based business communication device, or "work" phone, is what gives me fully integrated voice/communication access into my business communication system.  It connects me to intra-company dialing and company directories for example.  It is the highest voice quality (especially speakerphone) choice I have.  PC softphones and smart phones don't match the voice and video engineering attention that goes into a business-class communication device.

My business communication device is what is most integrated for access to my Unified Communications access/applications.  In general they are providing bigger and better screens to display and interact with these applications.  Video/media phones are becoming more popular as well allowing the "work" phone to become more and more like a communication and media device and offer smart phone type applications that aren't strictly "mobile" related.

Despite how primary a device this currently is for me, I'd like this device and it's applications to do much more given the communication revolution.  More on that later.

4) Tablet PC
I don't currently own one but again feel the need to mention them especially in light of the Apple iPad announcement.  Exactly how these devices are positioned remains to be seen. To date they appear to be moving toward content access;  the eReader; a fluid and fun web experience, and then some.  They appear to be aimed at the individual and/or consumer.  Perhaps they will move into the laptop functionality arena as well.
They aren't devices to support business class communication (voice/video) or real time collaboration with others.

Apple, as just one example, will likely have some success with iPad given their name and play off the iPhone.  I'm not about to go out and buy any tablet yet.  It's not filling any unique communication/application hole for me, or consolidating my devices.  They also require yet another wireless service plan and cost.

5) eReaders, music players
Are these devices too specialized to last going forward?  Perhaps.  I have an Amazon Kindle eReader.  It makes me more comfortable at reading lengthy material; books, some news subscriptions.  They are small like a book but thinner.  All good for more natural reading position and holding it like a book.  I'm OK with this special separate device since I don't really carry it around all the time.  I read it at home and if I'm traveling. Reading off a smart phone, PC, or laptop just doesn't replace it for me.  Many/most of the emerging tablet PC are too large to match the comfort of an eReader - so far anyway.

Stand alone music oriented devices are out in my mind.  The trend is that smart phones have replaced and absorbed that functionality.

Device consolidation I'd like to see
I'd like to consolidate down to two main devices.  What they are and my rationale follow.

Among the major factors I consider are touch screen size, quality, and contrast; battery life; mobility; content provider access; access to and quality of interface to Unified Communications and business collaboration functions.

1) Business Communicator/Collaborator
I broadly define this as a tablet-like computing platform that includes business class voice and video communication, collaboration features and quality.  It would be my primary device and interface into my Unified Communications applications: calendar, contacts, presence, voice, video, email, personal agent, social network communications etc.  Refer to this link for more on what I believe Unified Communications can do for us in today's communications world of communication overload.  That gives more context on why/what I think this device could do.

Why tablet-like?
a) I want a big enough (~ 10+ inches) reading/viewing screen with high contrast, brightness, HD video.  It can't be too large so it doesn't lose its mobility.
b) I like touch screen manipulation that the iPhone has made so popular. 
c) It can add handwriting/ink applications for real-time collaboration applications
d) thin, lightweight - makes it reasonably mobile
e) give me portrait and landscape mode use

Other expectations - Business Orientation Is Key!
a) The device should dock when I am in my office or home office.  I want to be able to use the more natural keyboard and larger HD quality monitor or other USB devices as well as the wired network.
b) It's got to be mobile and portable enough to work in my office docked, or undock and bring to a conference room, or to bring home or on business and VPN into my business infrastructure
c) Fun and easy to use access and interface into my Unified Communications applications.  Make good use of the larger screen 
d) Full access into my Corporate resources through cellular networks would be a huge plus for me.
e) Designed for voice/video communication as a primary rather than secondary function.  Today's PC/laptop/tablets are not.
f) Integrated camera primarily for video calling capability
g) I want many of the smart phone type applications
f) Larger screen should be used to give me more of a communication and collaboration dashboard, more context and history around who I am currently communicating with etc.

What about eReaders?
Depending on the overall size/weight of this device, it may be feasible for it to also serve as my eReader.  That would be nice but not essential.  I don't mind picking up a separate eReader at home or on business travel.  I'd like to see standard interfaces develop for eReaders and content providers.  Let me mix and match whatever device I want (perhaps my ideal business communicator for example) and purchase material from any content provider I want.  Stop the Amazon to Kindle, Apple to it's own content etc direct mapping.  It's one cause of the device proliferation.  Just a thought.

Is this device now my business PC?
Maybe.  At the very least this device would need a strong interface to my business desk PC or laptop through the network.   I'd want this device to be best at communications and collaborationi first rather than try to be and compete with the PC.

2) Smart Phone
The second primary device would be my truly compact portable communicator - the smart phone.  This is a device that I will always have with me, sometimes along with my Tablet-like communicator, sometimes not.  It fits in my pocket, can connect me "partially" to personal as professional communications whenever I want.  It's good enough to monitor any/all key communications - voice, social net, emails.  My view is that "if" there is something I need to do more than just "view" or read, I'll revert to my full communicator device above.

I need a good interface application into my business Unified Communications applications from this device.  I'd want to get access to a subset of calendar, contacts, presence, communication history information that is better matched to the smaller smart phone screen.

Let me say again, especially related to my smart phone, that  I need and expect more control of my communications and information flow through stronger Unified Communications capabilities.

My smart phone is also my mobile music player.  There should be no need to carry a separate one.

In summary
I want to migrate to two main communication oriented devices that I would carry with me at various times; the very compact smart phone and a larger yet mobile business communication and collaboration device that can access and cooperate with my main business computing platform.  What are your ideas and views around this?  Are multiple communication and media devices an overload issue for you?

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