Saturday, March 26, 2011

Desktop vs Mobile: What Won't Change

Michael Pietroforte posted another in his series of articles on dissecting the impact of mobile apps on tradtional (i.e. desktop-based) web applications and web sites.  It's a very good series to read if you (a) work in a field related to web development, web-based marketing, or (b) manage desktops and/or mobile devices on a large scale, and (c) give a crap about tech trends as a whole.  I have been known to occassionally give a crap, but mine don't exude a fowl aroma, of course.  posh posh and all that, pass me another crumpet please?

Here's why small, handheld mobile devices cannot completely wipe out desktops and laptops, or at the very least: tablets.  The following tasks are simply impractical and painful to even attempt on a small handheld device form factor:

  • Writing software program code (two hands are better than one)
  • Writing books and blog articles (same)
  • Managing computer systems effectively (same)
  • Professional photography editing (larger viewing area preferred, more detail required)
  • Professional music mixing (same)
  • REAL Multi-tasking*

Ok.  I'm sure some of you are shaking your heads and spinning up into a decent argument mode right now.  "Oh yeah?! Well, what about…"  Ok, let's hit those counterpoints too…

Some will say that it will soon be common practice to dock mobile devices within stationary systems (large video display, larger keyboard, mouse/pointer, etc.), which is already possible with some devices, but still is a limited practice.  This concept defeats and NEGATES the mobile form-factor argument entirely.  Sure, it makes the core computational device a bit more portable, but you're still only able to expose and exploit the full capabilities while it is docked.  In between it is less capable.  Period.  Sure, you can message, tweet, take pictures, play music and all that, but compared with the docked experience it's a subset, because everything that can be done while undocked can be done while docked, but more can be done while docked.  This is a basic mathematical principle.

Are mobile devices then an inferior form factor?  No.  Just different.  But if we confine our discussion to comparing the aspects of a mobile device with what "threat" it poses to traditional desktop form-factors, then the gloves come off and it's apples-vs-apples from that point on.

* By "REAL Multi-tasking" I am referring to the ability to visually and manually view multiple sub-environments at the same time and simply move the eyes between them to consume their individual dynamic states.  You cannot do that on a smart phone.  Period.  You have to hide one app to access another.  I don't care how tricky the UI engineers get with that process, it's hamstrung by viewing space.  On a desktop video display (or my flat-panel TV, even better, umm…. "Hello?  Winner!") I can have multiple applications open without them competing for display real estate.  I simply move my eyes to see what each is doing and make a quick decision as to which I want to interact with.  On a mobile device I have to use my fingers to view each one, then discern the state and make a singular (serialized) decision about interaction priority, not a multi-nodal comparison with only my eyes (which are faster than my hands).

So.  In the end: desktops, laptops and tablets aren't going to dissappear anytime soon.

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