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The United States of Productivity

As someone who’s been in business technology for a long time, I have a penchant for the long view of tech innovation and particularly how we’re adapting our use of technology rather than just the fact of it.

The smartphone is an interesting example of how iterative improvements to the original mobile phone ultimately resulted in a device that has little to do with origin of the species, with a recent study revealing that phone calls now account for only 10% of total smartphone usage. Despite this, the word phone still accounts for half the letters of the term smartphone. It’s likely that if the smartphone had just magically appeared, fully formed in a puff of smoke yesterday, it wouldn’t occur to us to put phone in its name.

And so, as we increasingly look at contemporary technology through a lens that can’t see as far back as the mainframe, we’re free to think differently about how we apply technology in the workplace, and specifically in different workplace contexts.

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Adapting and evolving technology to address different use cases and states hasn’t been a smooth run and has certainly misfired along the way, sometimes painfully missing the importance of context when it comes to productivity. While the mighty spreadsheet is a truly wonderful thing in the classic PC state of desktop, keyboard and mouse – it’s just hell on wheels on a smartphone or tablet.

Equally deserving of contempt in this regard is the Frankenstein-esque notion that just because it’s technically feasible to project the Windows desktop and applications to an iPad, doesn’t mean you should. And while the legacy of 1980’s tech monoculture – the full-fat desktop PC – isn’t going away any time soon, it is becoming less important to our overall productivity alongside more recent and more contextually adaptable form factors such as the tablet or smartphone.

If you read my last blog post about Apps, you could be forgiven for thinking I had bit of a downer on Apps, but actually my sense is that while in 2008 some thought that Apps signalled the dawn of the next computing revolution, the notion of what makes a smartphone app valuable today has just settled on what works well in a smartphone context.

Whether that’s email on-the-go or reconciling your bank transactions in bed, but possibly more notably not by transplanting full desktop app functionality into a four inch touch display.

And so rather than restricting our notion of productivity to what can be achieved sitting at a desktop PC, new technology form factors like tablets and smartphones enable business productivity to branch off in directions we couldn’t have foreseen ten years ago, never mind thirty.

And that fundamentally changes the way we think about building and using software.

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