One of the most popular questions clients ask me is, “When will tablets be used for productivity, rather than just consumption?” My answer: They already are, but in different ways than we have come to expect from the PC era. As I discuss in a new Forrester report, tablets, smartphones, and future devices like wearables are tools of a new era of post-PC productivity.
Combining the native capabilities of post-PC devices with cloud connectivity yields powerful new productivity scenarios that weren’t available in the PC era, such as:
On-screen, in-person presentations. With a laptop, the screen is a wall that divides participants; tablets enable participants to share a screen, and their lightweight, instant-on form factor makes spontaneous presentations using apps like Slideshark possible in hallways or trade show floors — not just conference rooms.
Scanning, processing, and sharing from a single, portable device. The combination of a high-quality camera combined with the ability to annotate and share documents condenses document workflow, using apps like DocScanner and PaperPort by Nuance Communications.
Remote, anywhere document access, editing, and sync. Before its acquisition by Google, Quickoffice generated $30 million in revenue in 2011 with products that allow users to remotely access, search, edit, sync, and share documents across devices, platforms, and cloud services.
I've spent the day at Microsoft's unveiling of Office 2013 at the Metreon in San Francisco. This product has been years in the making. It was conceived before the iPad hit the shelves, and its improvements are largely PC-focused--Excel, Word, and PowerPoint deliver richer and more fully-featured experiences on the PC than ever before. It's a product that has adapted to the multi-device lifestyle, with user-based subscription pricing (Office 365) and cloud-streamed Web apps (Office on Demand)--but the PC is still the star, and tablets are an afterthought. Office does have a mobile strategy, but that's explicitly not the focus of this event today. Even Microsoft's own Windows 8 platform won't get native Metro apps for all the Office programs at launch. (The version of Office that will be available for Windows 8 and Windows RT at launch is touch-optimized but won't use the Metro UI, except for Lync and OneNote, which will be native "Windows 8-style" apps.)
Office is a $20 billion business, and Office 2013 is the best version of Office yet. It will sell millions of licenses to consumers and enterprises (Office 2010 has sold more than 100 million copies, and that doesn't include the millions of users who use pirated versions of Office). But products at the peak of their success can still be vulnerable to disruption, and Office 2013 certainly is, especially to competitors who put mobile first, and who deliver less-good experiences for cheap or free.
There are more than 100 new features in Apple’s next version of its Mac operating system, dubbed “Mountain Lion” or Mac OSX. The ones that interest me most are those that advance the notion of post-PC productivity: experiences that help people be productive using multiple modes and devices. In particular, product strategists should pay attention to Apple’s:
iCloud integration of Docs and Notes. Mountain Lion users will be able to sync notes created in Apple’s Notes app, and documents created in its iWork apps, across Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Think of it as Amazon’s Whispersync for productivity. The catch is, though, that the synching is only within the same “app”—so if you create a document in Pages on your Mac, for example, you can sync it through iCloud to a Pages app on your iPad, but iCloud synching wouldn’t be compatible from Pages to another document editing app like Quickoffice. Third-party developers could use the Documents in the Cloud feature, but it would be sandboxed only within their app. This is an interesting twist for the many product strategists developing cloud-synched productivity apps. Evernote, for example, would have less value to users of ONLY Apple devices, since iCloud Notes synching is built into the OS. Evernote’s value proposition, and Quickoffice’s, will now revolve more around the multi-platform use case — users that need access to their stuff across iOS/Mac, Windows, and/or Android. Luckily, this is still a big market: Forrester’s data as of Q4 2011 show that 58% of Mac owners also own at least one PC, and 60% of iPad owners own another type of phone besides iPhone.