Let’s Stop Making Faster Horses

 The demand for consumer devices to access internal corporate systems is very strong. This is helping to evolve ‘work anywhere’ initiatives in companies, giving employees the freedoms that come with not being tethered to a desk.
An observation that is shared among most IT departments is that despite being able to secure data and applications, creating new content on these devices suck – and they are right.
In response to this feedback Microsoft have created their Surface tablet which gives IT departments the comfort blanket of   using their Windows environments they have invested millions of pounds in, but no one knows what the hell the device is. It’s a laptop and a tablet but it’s crappy laptop and a crappy tablet.
Infographics and reports are coming from IT Managers and MDM/MAM providers declaring that tablets are ‘consuming’ devices that aren’t suitable to create content, and I don’t agree.
We are still trying to shoe horn the desktop way of creating content into tablets, with software that was designed to work with a monitor, mouse and keyboard. Citrix are trying to deliver virtual applications with mobile friendly skins, which delivers a solution which ignores feature sets gained with tablet devices.
When you really think about it a word processor is still a gloryifed typewriter.
 “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”
Henry Ford (Apparently)
 I’m convinced word processors and office applications are the ‘faster horses’ of the computing world.
It takes a little imagination to imagine creating content with voice, gestures, location and other offerings that our new devices give us. It may seem strange but if you look at the way we still create content for digital consumption using traditional office suites  a virtual piece of paper on a screen – then it makes sense to find a more modern way of working. All we’ve done is created a typewriter  that allows you to save documents and delete your mistakes.
Business applications on the iPad need to be radically redesigned. We should be finding innovative ways to create content as opposed to awkwardly using ported versions of desktop software. A great example of someone who is doing this is the team at Roambi, a data visualisation tool, by using lots of data sources users are able to manipulate and create visual representations of data rather than the strange Excel document manipulations being offered to users in most business.

Mobile Networks & The Internet of Things

‘The Internet Of Things’ is one of the hottest topics in tech right now, and for good reason. The idea of objects and appliances being able to connect to the Internet has some really exciting applications.  We’ll be able to control our appliances when out of the house, keep secure and safe with smart alarms and, of course, there’s the fabled ability to have meals ready when we walk through the door after a long day.

 

Connecting these devices to an account, pairing them with a phone, and then connecting to a home WiFi network is a pretty crappy experience at the moment. WiFi passwords are complex and typically live on the back of a router that lives behind a bookcase or some other obstacle.

 

There are solutions out there that require a base station, but why should we have to do this when 99% of the UK is covered with GSM connectivity? There are products and ideas that would much better suit 3G/4G connectivity, products that operate outside the reach of our home wireless connection.

 

Eighteen months ago I tried to create ‘Rocko Collar’, a pet collar that used the GSM network to transmit the exact location of your pet and to show it on a mobile app. I wasn’t the first to try this, but set out on a mission to do it right… and ran into the same problems as similar projects.

 

I have come to the conclusion that there are two fundamental reasons why people won’t buy connected products that rely on mobile networks:

1. Too expensive due to the manufacturers covering the cost of the mobile contracts.

2. Cheaper products come with a monthly subscription.

 

When building Rocko Collar, I originally dealt with two mobile networks in the UK, EE and Telephonica, and both could only offer a solution based on a monthly line rental fee per registered device. This way of doing business creates some difficulties for manufacturers, as it’s difficult to estimate the life span of a product in order to absorb the cost in the RRP or to convince customers that a monthly fee is a good idea. People aren’t used to paying a monthly fee to use something like a pet collar, a kettle or a thermostat. Some might say that a £5 monthly fee to use a connected device isn’t really that much but, in time, connectivity in our appliances will become an expected feature and those monthly fees will soon rack up.

 

So what is the answer? Quite simply, mobile networks need to leave the Stone Age.  The days of charging a fixed line rental cost per little plastic SIM card need to be put behind us. Mobile networks should be able to offer packages that meet the needs of businesses building products where connectivity is a non-visible feature.  If manufacturers are able to provide mobile networks with an estimated life span of the product, how many products they aim to sell and what network resources they will use, the mobile networks should be able to offer a blanket billing plan based on actual usage instead of line rental and allowances. They may not make as much money as they would like, but it would give the tech industry a massive incentive to create all sorts of devices that will ultimately become a key revenue stream for mobile operators.

 

However, I realise I may be asking a lot from an industry that still believes using your mobile device in another country warrants a 25000%* mark-up fee.