When people think of futuristic user interfaces (Forrester analysts included), they often invoke the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. The imagery in the movie offers a compelling vision of how next-generation technologies – gestural control, voice command, 3D visuals, multi-screen interactions – can empower computing experiences.
Where did Minority Report get this vision? From a man named John Underkoffler, Chief Scientist at a company called Oblong. He designed the computer interfaces in the film.
I had the pleasure of visiting Oblong’s Boston office recently, where I saw demonstrations of several technologies. Most interesting to me was the company’s Mezzanine offering, an “infopresence” conference room that the company sells to enterprises today.
The solution involves equipping a conference room (or multiples – it works as a long distance telepresence location) with a number of monitors (5 in the room I visited), teleconferencing equipment (industry standard products work well), and ceiling-mounted sensors (for interpreting gestural controls), and a whiteboard (a physical one, but visible to a camera). Workers control the room with a wand, which works via both gestural controls and a button.
Putting all of these things together, workers can collaborate both within the room itself and with remote teams (or remote individual team members). The resulting experience, in my view, offers two sets of benefits:
One noteworthy detail emerged from Microsoft’s quarterly earnings call yesterday: A $900 million write-down for “inventory adjustments” related to the underperformance of Windows RT. This result didn’t come as a surprise because:
Microsoft’s Windows RT strategy has long been puzzling. Launching the Surface RT device before the Windows 8-based Surface Pro offering never made sense – an insufficient number of Modern UI apps made the Surface RT hard to position and sell from the beginning. Samsung recognized the shortcomings of RT early on, exitingthe market a mere three months after RT’s release.
Microsoft still hasn’t convinced developers that Windows RT should be a top priority. Our survey of 2,038 global software developers revealed that developer support for Windows RT trails Windows 7, Windows 8, Apple iOS, Google Android, and even Apple OS X. For example, while 21% of global developers support or plan to support Windows RT, 64% say the same for “Windows 7 and earlier versions.”
Today, Samsung places much greater strategic emphasis on its enterprise business, which is now a “top three priority” globally for the company. Symbolizing this new commitment to enterprise customers, on June 11th Samsung openeda new Executive Briefing Center (EBC) in its Ridgefield Park, NJ office. The EBC offers enterprise customers and Samsung’s many partners an opportunity to experience Samsung’s vertically-optimized enterprise offerings in context.
I attended the opening, which enjoyed executive-level support from the President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America Yangkyu (Y.K) Kim, President of Samsung Electronics America Tim Baxter, and Senior Vice President, Samsung Enterprise Business Tod Pike. I also spent an hour learning more about the Samsung value proposition for enterprise customers from Tod, including the excerpted Q&A below.
Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division focuses on a vertical strategy that includes Education, Healthcare, Retail, Financial Services, and Hospitality... and which isn’t just about devices, though their product offerings in hospitality TVs, notebook and tablet PCs, virtualization, wireless printers, and digital signage play a prominent role. Samsung also brings together enterprise-savvy partners like Crestron and Nuance Communications – along with numerous systems integrators and other channel partners – to deliver software, content, and services along with those devices.
I recently spoke with Tim Tuttle, the CEO of Expect Labs, a company that operates at the vanguard of two computing categories: Voice recognition (a field populated by established vendors like Nuance Communications, Apple, and Google) and what we can call the Intelligent Assistant space (which is probably most popularly demonstrated by IBM’s “Jeopardy”-winning Watson). In their own words, Expect Labs leverages “language understanding, speech analysis, and statistical search” technologies to create digital assistant solutions.
Expect Labs built the application MindMeld to make the conversations people have with one another "easier and more productive” by integrating voice recognition with an intelligent assistant on an intuitive tablet application. They have coined the term “Anticipatory Computing Engine” to describe their solution, which offers users a new kind of collaboration environment. (Expect Labs aims to provide an entire platform for this type of computing).
It’s (long past) time to put the era of One Size Fits All enterprise computing behind us. Providing workers with Standard Issue™ devices and software represents an antiquated paradigm. Instead, segmenting your workforce into different classes of workers – honoring the needs of each type of worker – can help you:
Save money. Overinvesting in computing power by giving a worker “too much machine” and over-investing in software licenses for applications that won’t be used are common implications of One Size Fits All enterprise computing. You can save money by provisioning appropriate hardware and software to various classes of workers.
Preempt BYO. While IT departments are coming around to the virtues and values of BYO, managing excessively diverse BYO comes with management costs. You can preempt some types of BYO by providing the right tool to the right worker at the right time… obviating the need for them to bring their own.
Drive worker productivity and innovation. Innovations like tablets and Chromebooks can empower certain classes of workers to achieve new levels of productivity. Providing the right worker – for example, a traveling salesperson – with a tablet can enable new scenarios and create tangible returns.
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made news this week with his claim that tablets will be dead in five years. “Tablets themselves are not a good business model,” he claimed in an interview.
As Techcrunch wittily responded: “BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins Says Tablets “Not A Good Business Model,” Evidently Forgetting About iPad.” As I recently blogged, Apple’s iPad is the growth engine of its entire business so far in 2013, growing 65% year over year. Meanwhile, shipments of Android tablets have found their footing, particularly for Samsung, ASUS, and Amazon, growing in shipments so far this year.
So tablets certainly represent a thriving business model today. More importantly, the tablet will grow into a must-have computing device for much of the world by 2017.
The penetration of tablets into the consciousness of information workers, IT professionals, business people, and consumers only continues to grow. Much as with smartphones, tablets are increasingly taken for granted as a device one will have in one’s life.
Take, for example, information workers: We surveyed 9,766 global information workers about their preferences for which operating system they would like to use on their (next) work tablet. We also gave them an out: “I don’t plan to use a tablet for work.”
In recent research, I have laid out some similarities and differences between tablets and laptops. But the tablet market is growing ever more fragmented, yielding subtleties that aren’t always captured with a simple “PC vs. tablet” dichotomy. As Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals try to determine the composition of their hardware portfolios, the product offerings themselves are more protean. Just describing the “tablet” space is much harder than it used to be. Today, we’re looking at multiple OSes (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, forked Android), form factors (eReader, tablet, hybrid, convertible, touchscreen laptop), and screen sizes (from 5” phabletsand to giant 27” furniture tablets) – not to mention a variety of brands, price points, and applications. If, as rumored, Microsoft were to enter the 7” to 8” space – competing with Google Nexus, Apple iPad Mini, and Kindle Fire HD – we would see even more permutations. Enterprise-specific – some vertically specific – devices are proliferating alongside increased BYO choices for workers.
Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals, in the age of Bring-Your-Own (BYO) technology, are keeping closer tabs on the comings and goings of the consumer market. Most of the devices they find their companies’ employees using come from consumer retail, whether from physical retail locations like the Apple Store or Best Buy, or online venues like Amazon or Dell.com.
Samsung announced yesterday that it will be opening “Samsung Experience Shops” -- based on a store-within-a-store concept -- in 1,400+ Best Buy locations in the US in coming weeks and months. By the second half of the year, Samsung will possess a significant retail presence tailored to its own devices and staffed with sales associates with greater knowledge of its products. CNET reports: “The shops in large-format Best Buy stores will include blue-shirted consultants who are employed and trained by Samsung, as well as Best Buy staffers who receive special instruction.”
Apple, of course, has enjoyed incredible success with its Apple Stores since they opened in North America in 2001. The Apple Store has been a powerful pillar of Apple’s overall consumer strategy because of:
The quality and effectiveness of its sales associates. Apple has been able to attract, train, and retain high quality staff for its stores. In an era when cost-cutting affects retail experiences across all categories, Apple’s associates create a high-quality customer experience for Apple's customers and prospects.
Tablets drive worker productivity in part due to their hyper-portability, as I argued in a recent blog post. Workers can (and, we showed with data, do) use tablets in more places, places where they wouldn’t (and don’t) take their PCs.
The top question I’ve received about tablet hyper-portability is this one: “Tablets are very portable, sure, but are people using them as creation devices or as (mere) consumption devices?” The general assumption behind this question tends to be that “creation” activities are equal to “productivity,” while “consumption” activities are not. I believe this is a false dichotomy, however. Consuming the right information at the right time can increase worker productivity in and of itself. Let me offer a few examples showing how that can work:
Retail sales associates using tablets with customers. Retailers are equipping sales associates with tablets to use on the retail floor, creating richer interactions with customers – and driving higher sales.
Physicians conducting patient rounds with tablets. Physicians can gain rich, immediate insight into their patients’ health records – saving time and driving more accurate diagnoses in less time. They also use the tablets to show patients results (like x-ray images), creating a better patient experience.
Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.
Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.
We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.
Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.