It’s Time For Enterprises To Consider Chromebooks

Since their introduction over two years ago, the buzz around Chromebooks hasn't always been positive. Although recent news about Chromebook growth in the consumer market has improved this picture, negative press still hasn't been hard to come by this year.

Infrastructure & Operations professionals with responsibility for end user computing and device portfolios should ignore the naysayers. In fact, it’s time to take a fresh look at whether Chromebooks might fill a legitimate computing niche for your company.

In a major new Forrester report, we present an analysis of the enterprise Chromebook space. Let me first be clear that Chromebooks won’t replace all or even most Windows PCs, Macs, and tablets. But for companies that are (1) willing to segment their workforces (offering Chromebooks to specific classes of workers in a mixed environment with PCs and tablets), (2) adopting Gmail and/or Google Apps, or who are (3) deploying the devices in a customer-facing (think kiosk) scenario, Chromebooks are definitely worth investigating.

Moving workers to Chromebooks generates these benefits (plus others covered in the full report):

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Our Gesture Controlled 3D Computing Future: Beyond Leap Motion

Today saw the release of Leap Motion, the 3D gestural navigation controller for PCs and Macs. Like its cousin the Xbox Kinect, Leap Motion uses sensors to track physical gestures. Where Kinect tracks your entire body, Leap Motion tracks fine movements of the arms, hands, and fingers. In turn, this allows users to input information, enabling touch-free 3D gestural navigation control.

Leap Motion can be used to navigate operating systems (Windows, Mac), to cruise through Google Earth,  to draw a digital picture, to generate experimental music, or to dissect a virtual frog, as seen in the AirSpace Leap Motion app store. In the future, surgeons could perform surgeries and airline pilots could control their plans with this solution, according to the vendor.

The success or failure of Leap Motion will derive from the strength of the app ecosystem that grows up around it:

  • As with touch screen, ground-up applications work best... “Touch-first” applications – those reimagined from the ground up with touch as the primary navigational method – generally appeal to users better than “touch-second” experiences where touch was added to an existing application. Similarly, gesture-controlled experiences need to be rethought from the ground up.The same is true for voice-controlled apps. Developers will need to change the way they work in coming years, collaborating with designers and experts in human anatomy, for all of this to work. Until that happens, the technology will remain marginal.
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With Windows RT Struggling, Microsoft Should Bring Office To iPad

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, exiting the 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.”
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Our Voice-Controlled Computing Future: How Workers Use Voice Commands Today

Voice-controlled intelligent assistants offer a tantalizingly productive vision of end user computing. Using voice commands, users can extend the computing experience to not just mobile scenarios, but to hyper-mobile, on-the-go situations (such as while driving). With wearables like Google Glass, voice command promises even deeper integration into hyper-mobile experiences, as this video demonstrates. And voice controlled intelligent assistants can also enable next-generation collaboration tools like MindMeld.

In spite of this promise, there remains a lurking sense that voice control is more of a gimmick than a productivity enhancer. (As of the time I posted this blog, a Google search for Siri+gimmick yielded… “about 2,430,000 results”). To see where voice control really stands, we surveyed information workers in North American and Europe about their use of voice commands.

Information workers’ use of voice control today:

In reality, many information workers with smartphones are already using voice commands – at least occasionally. Our survey revealed that:

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Q&A with Tod Pike, Senior Vice President, Samsung Enterprise Business

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 opened a 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.

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Fragmentation Is A Way Of Life, But Few New Platforms Will Emerge

In recent weeks, I’ve been asked the same question several times: Will the devices market continue on a highly fragmented path, or will the market shake out to yield a couple of viable form factors and platforms? This query actually encompasses two distinct questions, with two answers:

1. Devices and form factors will continue to fragment, though failures will abound.
Let me unpack this a bit, starting with some background: In 2007, I published a report called The Age of Style in which I predicted that computing form factors would diversify and fragment:

By 2012, the industry won't include just two form factors, laptops and desktops, but five or more form factors that are universally viewed as differentiated products.

The advent of new mass market computing experiences — from smartphones to eReaders to several flavors of tablets to phablets (and beyond) — rendered this prediction accurate. We live in a world of form factor diversity, which is only increasing with the introduction of wearables, the accelerating fragmentation of the tablet category, and the innovations associated with television-sized, collaborative touchscreen devices.

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Our Keyboard-Free Computing Future: Expect Labs' MindMeld Tablet App

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).

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Microsoft’s Best Buy Windows Store: A Critical Strategic Move With Several Drawbacks

When Samsung made its move to install 1,400 store-within-a-store concepts at Best Buy back in April, we recommended that Microsoft take note. And take note, it did: Today Microsoft and Best Buy announced the launch of a new Windows Store at 500 Best Buy locations in the United States and another 100 in Canada, for a total of 600 in North America.

Instead of a store-within-a-store concept (which both Apple and Samsung now employ at Best Buy), the Windows Store represents a complete take-over of the PC department. Windows Stores will effectively replace the computer department at these 600 Best Buy locations. But they will offer a wider range of Microsoft consumer products (PCs, tablets, and accessories, of course, but also Office, Windows Phone, and even Xbox) than just PCs.

Microsoft’s Windows Store represents a vital strategic step forward in its retail strategy and ought to yield some benefits. At the same time, the move should have happened several years ago; it isn’t quite as ambitious as it might have been, and Microsoft will have to work hard to overcome legacy practices within the Best Buy ecosystem.

Why is this move essential for Microsoft? Put simply, the non-Apple Store North American retail channel for consumer electronics is broken … and it’s getting more broken:

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD: A Stealth BYOD Tablet Competitor

Amazon announced today that its Kindle Fire HD tablet offerings will rocket from availability in just seven markets (U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Japan) to 170+ countries in mid-June. The 7” and 8.9” Amazon Kindle Fire HD models have enjoyed great success in the consumer market, as Forrester predicted they would even before the first device was released in November, 2011.

The move to expand geographically makes sense, as Amazon continues to capitalize on its core strength – its content + device + services value proposition – in consumer markets. Perhaps less obviously, though, Kindle Fire HD has turned out to be something of a stealth competitor in the bring-your-own-device (BYO) space.

In a survey of information workers in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, and Germany – fielded from February to April 2013 – we found that, among those who say they use a tablet at least weekly for work:

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Segmenting Your Workforce Will Actually Drive Innovation

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.
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