A few months ago I attended a presentation at MicroStrategy which focused on their Mobile product. The class highlighted how information can be presented on iPhones and iPads in very useful and flexible ways, but one section of the presentation really sparked my interest. It showed the usage growth of the various technologies as they become current:

If these figures are to be believed, and I suspect they're pretty close, then the evolution is continuing and rapidly expanding towards less expensive, more portable and easy to use devices. For our discussion, let's assume that Mobile Internet computing consists of phones (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.) and tablets (iPad almost exclusively at this time).

Clearly personal use has driven the growth of mobile. Mobile devices are almost everywhere now, and are incredibly useful as a life tool. For example, my family was caught up in the travel nightmare over Christmas as our flight from Atlanta to Richmond was cancelled. Since we were rebooked for a flight two days later, we elected to rent a car and drive home. But due to high demand for rental cars, we were told that unless we had a reservation, there were no cars available. Not quite ready to eat airport food for two days, I reserved a car using my Android phone. Ten hours later I was home. My phone had paid for itself by preserving two vacation days each for my wife and myself.

Other examples include:

  • Took a wrong turn? Not sure where you are? Check Google Maps using its GPS feature.
  • Driving along, thinking about trying out a new restaurant that's up ahead? Look up reviews using Yelp, and then browse the menu.
  • Can't remember if an upcoming conference call conflicts with your son's soccer game? Check your sync'ed up Exchange and personal calendar.

But what about business use? Is that the next wave? Are mobile devices merely slick, cool toys? Or is it the newest disruptive innovation? For an increasing number of companies mobile devices are time and cost-saving tools which can be used anywhere. A few examples:

  • Mercedes Benz is deploying iPads to streamline the car purchase process, having customers access car-buying data while in the car rather than in an office. This not only saves the customer time, but reduces the potential for a customer to back out while sitting in the finance manager's office.
  • Arhaus Furniture is using iPads to reduce paperwork and increase customer satisfaction in its furniture delivery process. The company expects to save $100,000 per year in time and paper savings. They also use the GPS feature to get directions to customers as well as electronically collect signatures.
  • ServiceMax has announced its iPad-based Field Service app. It will contain "everything from customer and route information. product manuals, warranty data, social and collaboration tools, etc., essentially giving everyone from manufacturers and service-based businesses of all sizes an option to make the iPad a key part of their field service solution." It's also interesting to note that the new app is based on force.com, the PaaS offering from Salesforce.com and runs in the cloud.
  • Tablets can be extremely useful for field sales, not only in reducing paper but also simply being a slick, easy to use sales tool that's far more portable than a laptop. Need images? Near instant access. Specs? Touch here. Place your order? How about right now? No paper forms to complete, no catalogs to lug around, no hard copies to file. Here's one overview for the real estate business: iPad Uses for Realtors.

From an IT Staff-member perspective, why might I want to recommend a tablet for a mobile or executive-type user?

  • Reduced IT costs: Tablets tend to be less expensive to purchase than enterprise-quality laptops. Support is believed to be less as well due to fewer opportunities for breakdowns or other configuration-type issues. Installation of new/updated apps is easy as well.
  • Re-use of existing data: The MicroStrategy presentation mentioned above demonstrated re-use of existing reports and data to share information across the enterprise. Could your reports and other information be easily re-purposed to a mobile device?
  • Increased usability: Task-specific applications can speed users to completion. Rather than navigate through an application to a specific screen, users click a single icon. This is analogous to using a web browser to find movie times vs. an app on a smart phone – fewer steps, quicker results.
  • Access existing applications: How about using the Citrix iPad app to provide access to existing Windows applications?

Certainly mobile devices are not a replacement for a fully featured desktop or laptop. But there are many creative uses for them. How is your company viewing the mobile device? As an opportunity, or as a novelty?