The great Windows 8 fanboy fallacy – iPads are just media consumption devices

comments on yesterday’s article. The comment thread is really informative and I got a chance to see the different points of view regarding the roles of business and IT. Building on that, I wanted to discuss something else that I have heard about the iPad when speaking with Microsoft enthusiasts. The phrase that is often bandied around by the media and Microsoft fans is “the iPad is a media consumption device”. Sounds straightforward and on the most basic level, it’s true. What’s more worrisome about that phrase is that it’s used to “attempt” to belittle the device and make it seem like it is much less than industrial strength. Note – I emphasize the word “attempt” because when a device sells 3 million units over a weekend, it’s really impossible to effectively belittle it. “Media consumption” suggests that the strength of the device lies in it’s ability to display magazines, news and movies effectively. It speaks more to the iPad’s ability to effectively display “media” and not really “do work”. In fact, I was at a conference where the guy next to me said (speaking about a Samsung Series 7 Windows 8 slate) that “don’t compare this to an iPad, it’s an Ultrabook without a keyboard”. The underlying message was that the Samsung was more powerful and thus, more able to “do work” than an iPad. I hope Microsoft is not thinking that way because therein lies the path to ruin. To see the iPad as “just a media consumption device” shows a misunderstanding of the nature of application development for mobile products.

Let’s talk about application development for a second.

Let’s take an application we are all familiar with (Microsoft Excel) and use it in a simple example. Let’s say a company is going to build a complex finance application based on Microsoft Excel for the Finance Department. Let’s also say that this application’s requirements state that it should have access to 600 different Excel functions and macros for calculations. Development of this application for the desktop and development of this application for tablets are totally separate and totally different events.

Desktop Development

When developing this application for use on a desktop PC, it’s safe to assume that since the user has Microsoft Excel on their desktop computer, the application will have access to the wide range of functions and formulas that Excel on the desktop provides. It will also be safe to say that there are no battery constraints (it’s a desktop plugged in to the wall) or processor constraints (it’s a desktop) or screen constraints (they probably use a full size monitor) so the full functionality of Excel can be utilized. Developing for this desktop application will reflect a wider range of test case scenarios because we have less technology restrictions and constraints. Long story short, each (client) desktop user of this application will have access to a lot of functionality.

Mobile Development

When deploying or porting this app to mobile (a phone or a tablet), there are a bunch of constraints. We have different (smaller) screen sizes to contend with, we have a weaker cpu, we have a shorter life battery to think about etc. Developing for mobile devices requires a new way of thinking. During the requirements phase, there will be a lot more discussions about exactly what is needed in the mobile version of the application. Efforts will be made to narrow down the functions from all 600 functions to the most useful 60 needed for staff to do their jobs. By definition, narrowing down functionality for mobile apps reflects the fact that businesses will not be looking for mobile apps to be FULLY replicate the full set of desktop application funtionality. Rather, businesses will be looking for mobile applications to perform a subset of business functions very well. So what could this scaled down mobile application look like? I’ll use a couple of screenshots from a Mary Jo Foley story discussing Windows 8 business app concepts. [caption id="attachment_15137" align="aligncenter" width="590"]dynamics start page dynamics start page[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_15138" align="aligncenter" width="590"]dynamics project approval dynamics project approval[/caption] You have beautiful apps on mobile with limited functionality – which is just fine for the business. Here is my point though. The limited functionality requirements for mobile business apps will make the process of working very similar to media consumption. You’ll have:
  • Rich colors
  • Web-based functionality
  • Finger swipes
  • Onscreen keyboard use
  • Limited Functionality
  • Intuitive functions
All the things that iPad users already do or are used to today. Look at those screenshots above again. Those screenshots look good on Metro but I can make the case that with Retina display on the iPad, they will look better. Here’s the bottom line – the same attributes that make the iPad a fantastic way to read the New York Times will be the very same attributes that make the iPad a fantastic way to update a company’s Accounts Receivables. Those iPads sneaking into the enterprise today will be able to prove their value as enterprise class devices tomorrow. Microsoft know this – this is why a Windows Tablet strategy is mission critical. The next time someone tells you that iPads are just media consumption devices, just chuckle. You know better. Once again, let me know what you think with the comments below. Good, bad or ugly, I wanna hear what you think…]]>

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