iDevices – the new Face of Personal Computing

Peering into ongoing innovation is like  looking at a prism. One can see images of what is emerging but the various shapes of an evolving idea in the market are like the facets of the prism – each one sees different forms, strategy and structure.  iDevices presents just such a kaleidoscope image as a  mix of iPhones, smartphones, iPads, tablets, and slate computing devices that have emerged from PDAs-Personal Digital Assistants  in the past 3-5  years.  iDevices, pioneered  by Apple Computer and hence the name, imply a highly personalized computing device. iDevices take  PDA’s  light and  mobile factors  and go well beyond  with  much better Web connections,  impressive computing power  which supports new levels of ease of use  fostered by touch+gesture savvy yet still carrying at least a full day of battery power.  iDevices are not only Web connected but also media proficient by presenting dense but highly readable  and maneuverable screens powered by on-board digital still and video cameras, microphones, motion sensors, GPS locators, etc.  But the icing on the cake is the hundreds of thousands of plugins or apps that can be used to extend and customize what an iDevice can do for each individual user.

But perhaps the biggest departure for iDevices is that they represent a rewrite. Not just a rewrite of the operating systems that control them[iOS4 for Apple, Android and Chrome for Google, webOS for HP, Meego for Intel/Nokia, and Microsoft Phone 7 are all new Operating Systems]  but also of the way users are served by computing devices. Thus,  by means of touch screens and on-board sensors, iDevices know where you are, how you are holding them, what is nearby but most importantly –  what you want them to do for you. Touch + gesture savvy iDevices are like Web 2.0 – they take computer interfaces to a new level of re-dedication to personalization and ease of use.

Now some observers, like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, would beg to differ and sees light touch devices [or iDevices]as just another PC. If you plug an iDevice into a docking station it becomes a point and tap PC. Thus iDevices can be handled like netbooks and the EEE PC – the first editions of light, mobile, and powered for a day. For  awhile netbooks allowed Linux to  make significant inroads into a consumer “PC”  market. That incursion was quickly stomped on by Microsoft in the Summer of 2008  with the resurrection of  the just discontinued Windows XP [Vista would not fit].  And users flocked   to Windows XP netbooks by a factor of 80%++. But the victory may have been Pyrrhic as Redmond was lulled into thinking an adapted Windows  could handle the new computing paradigm represented by iDevices.  But in fact  Microsoft’s Windows XP and Win Mobile OS did not support  touch + gestures interfaces, the many new sensors,  nor the low power processors which were dominating the rapidly evolving  iDevice market.  Apple’s iPhone/iPad and Google’s Android powered devices were ceded a big lead in the market.   So iDevices, as Microsoft has learned to its chagrin, are different than PCs be they desktop, laptop or notebook.

To  help underline the game changing nature of iDevices, consider Information Week’s Executive Editor,  Bob Evans, and his  very telling Open Letter  to Steve Jobs in the June 28, 2010 issue. The note describes how much iDevices have changed thinking in Enterprise Software. Bob quotes SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner:

Plattner said that the application of that new technology within SAP’s products will be dictated not by any SAP technology or product strategy, but rather by the real world experiences of the company’s customers for whom mobile access and decision-making are becoming indispensable.

“People at SAP ask me why do you insist on running a dunning program in two seconds  instead of two minutes ? No one is asking for that kind of speed for a dunning program. And I tell them you are asking the wrong question. The right question is how long will someone with an iPhone wait for an answer? And the answer is that 15 seconds is the absolute maximum amount of time people will wait before they go and start doing something else: check voice mail, send text messages, check email …This is the new reality.”
Plattner and SAP now realize that the world of enterprise applications is no longer about the complex code but about how a rapidly expanding set of users gain value from SAP Software … so Plattner says 15 seconds is the new limit….

The essential point is that iDevices with point and touch  gestures are seen as being  the optimum user interface. Many IT analysts concede that iDevices are changing how consumers  interact  with computing as they do messaging, use multimedia and play games; but the analysts  insist that iDevices have yet to have an impact on enterprises. Bob Evans  begs to differ and says look how one of the major business software vendors is reacting to the simplicity and speed of response that is built into iDevices.

How iDevices are More than Super PDAs.

iDevices are certainly outgrowths of the PDAs-Personal Digital Assistants like the Palm Pilot,Apple Newton, and Windows Mobile devices of the late 1990’s to  about 2005. But then “things changed” with the launch of the iPod followed by the iPhone. A new computing device emerged –  the media and touch savvy,  Web-connected iDevice.

The crucial difference between  iDevices and  PDAs  are low-power but much more computing power, touch sensitive interfaces, sensors everywhere[ like phone, both still and video cameras, speakers, voice mike, accelerometer, etc], expanding app program catalogs, and denser but more readable screens. All these factors have allowed iDevices to absorb, like Black Hole gadgets, other popular but limited use computing devices  like simple cellphones, mobile game consoles, eReaders for books, hand-held GPS locators, media players, etc. Markets for these limited gadgets dwindle as smartphones and other iDevices meet their needs for many consumers often with an easier to use interface. For end users the attraction is one device and low cost customization  with easily downloaded and installed apps or plugin.

Summary

iDevices reflect the need for a very easy to use interface to computing power that is light, portable and easily connected or plugged into both the broad Web and other “smart devices”. Vendors in the market are beginning to see the opportunity. iDevices are moving beyond being super smartphones or the optimum eReader or the handiest game console. iDevices with their WiFi connections and easily installed apps will become the universal remote controller, the interface of choice not just to the Web, voice and messaging but the standard connection device and interface to any equipment that has a computing server with builtin iDevice “smarts” to exchange and deliver data to the iDevice. The near future will see iDevices configuring and controlling equipment they can smart-link to. Our next post in this series on iDevices examines their rapid emergence and how they evolved to become a new face in Personal Computing.

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