Friday, 1 April 2011

LIKE23 Event - Information in the palm of your hand: the evolution of mobile information access

If you were a town planner c1850, what would you have made of the newfangled automobile drivers insisting on navigating your streets in 1920 in their bulky contrivances? 
Mark Needham from Widget used this metaphor to illustrate the situation we now find ourselves in, with new-adopters of smartphones and tablets, chock full of features and apps, trying to use systems that weren’t designed with their use in mind.
He argued that, after a slow evolution over the past 20-30 years, something clearly resembling or descended from the touch-screen, tablet-form smartphone / pocket computer, which is starting to become ubiquitous, will still be recognisable in the devises that will be in use in 50+ year’s time.
Mark described three key features that are essential to, and common across, all these devises:
·         Microprocessors, allowing for miniaturisation
·         The web, offering information and data
·         Mobile networks, offering access to that information
One area of potential that is still not being realised is the powerful combination of video and location awareness (GPS) that sits within smartphone and tablet devises.  Perhaps the bandwidth isn’t yet sufficient for a use to be found for it?
Andrew Swaine, Manager of Knowledge Sharing and Internal Communications at ARM then took the floor, and made the point that developers are now concerned with the power consumption of the devices rather than the processor speed of the past.  He said he preferred an i-pad to a laptop because the former lasted for 10 hours... not for 2 hours like his laptop used to!
He predicted there would be a major consolidation before mobile devises fulfil their potential to be useful – consolidation of operating system, of cloud providers, etc.  Users will come to expect single platform operation across i-phone (or equivalent), tablet and desktop.  Andrew sees web apps as an enabler for that to happen.
He said that user interaction is now the key thing.  Gone is the era of the ‘stupid user’ – if something doesn’t work as expected, it’s a bug!  He gave the example of the disappearance of the ‘save’ button on mobile apps – data is now saved automatically on exit from a screen or app, and that is the new normal.
We then had group discussions of what various people today try and use mobile devices for, and what impediments exist, as well as changes that might help solve those issues.
Our combined ‘wish list’ included such goodies as:
  • Better input devices – improved keyboard, or a projected keyboard onto a table surface so the size of the device isn’t an issue
  • Better search into large data sets – so better ‘right answers are returned from stupid questions’ as one person succinctly put it
  • A single log on / password for all the services you may want to use
  • Voice recognition
  • Better network coverage (especially in underdeveloped countries)
‘Always on’ access to everything (one’s own documents and email as well as the web) was seen as having positive benefits (eg, negating the need to email ‘stuff’ to your private email, circumventing information security on the way) as well as negative consequences (eg, logging into remote servers from unsecured mobile or web devises opening a route for malware) – more room for improvement in systems and technology to go then!
- Nicola Franklin

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