Musings on mobile, clouds and the post-PC world – design for the task

By June 14, 2011 4 Comments

Today I attended a breakfast meeting with Werner Vogels CTO of Amazon.com and am writing this post during the lunch break at the Money in Mobile conference here in London.  Maybe unsurprisingly the conversation at both events has revolved around mobile and cloud services.

I’ve written about Spotify and other cloud services enough that regular readers won’t be surprised when I write that I think that all services are headed to the cloud – access and collaboration are simply much much more convenient that way.  If my music is available via the cloud then I don’t have to worry about carrying any specific device with me, ditto if I use Evernote or Dropbox for file management etc., and I think that convenience trumps everything other than having the right device on hand to complete the tasks you want to do.  For example – Evernote is fantastic for reading notes on my iPhone and Blackberry, but it isn’t much good for creating them, at least not for long notes.  For that I want a task suitable device which has a bigger screen and probably a keyboard, and hence I carry my laptop around with me to take meeting notes even though it is a bit of a pain to lug around.

Ross Sleight of mobile marketing agency Somo talked a lot about this notion of ‘task suitability’ on a panel at the conference today as part of a discussion about whether we are heading for a post-PC world as tablets take over.  His belief is that tablets are suited for many tasks, particularly consuming media, but not so good for others, particularly creating media and using heavy duty applications (e.g. finance and HR).

That matches with my device use.  The main reason I carry a laptop around rather than my iPad is so that I can write blog posts and quickly process emails.  The iPad isn’t task suitable for those activities – it is doable, but too slow and painful.  (One of the reasons I recently bought an ASUS Android tablet with a detachable keyboard is to get the best of both worlds.)

The main reason that all this is interesting for me is in helping startups to figure out what devices and platforms they should develop for.  Thanks to Ross I now have a simpler answer – they should look at the way the service is (or will be) used and design for the devices and platforms that have the closest match.  If that is a music service then listening is the main use case and that should probably happen on mobile, maybe with periodic activity on the web to update settings and playlists, if it is video editing then a big screen and a keyboard will be key and the focus should be the computer and this will also be the case for most work oriented services. 

In the case where there is an existing web service considering whether to develop for mobile the answer is probably to look at which pieces of the service have value and could transport to mobile easily – Facebook do a good job of this, offering a cut down experience of the overall site focused on the most popular use cases.  The flip side of this argument is that developing for mobile just to have a mobile app probably doesn’t make sense and moving the whole service to mobile is equally unlikely to be the right answer.  Having a good answer as to why different parts of the app were selected to go on mobile is a good sign.

This has been a future gazing post and there are technology limitations to be overcome before cloud and mobile reach their potential and some of the concepts discussed here aren’t a reality just yet.  It won’t be long though.

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