In the past few days, applications to join Xero’s mobile team have really picked up. It’s heartening to see the enthusiasm out there. People get it. Mobile is nothing less than the next wave of personal computing.
In the ’00s there was a shift from desktop to web, and Xero was part of that evolution. The term start-up is now almost synonymous with some sort of web-based application, even if it’s just a website to take orders. All of our competitors are web-based or getting left behind.
Mobile is the next transition. People are visiting websites and searching application marketplaces on their handsets and looking for mobile equivalents of the online services they currently use and enjoy. They’re using their mobiles as personal way-finders and memory banks, as high-tech extensions of themselves. Eventually, the mobile experience, by necessity, will be on an equal footing with the web experience, and depending on the business it may eclipse it. We’re already starting to see the first cloud-connected businesses where mobile is the primary mode of interaction. Path and Instagram are two recent examples.
At #xerocon Australia last year, the audience was asked to put their hands up if they owned a smartphone. Seventy percent of the people in the room put their hands up. Those people expect a compelling mobile experience on their devices, and they deserve one.
But mobile isn’t just smartphones. In maybe 10 years we’ll see more wearable computers, more tablets and touchscreens, IPv6 addressable appliances, and even the beginnings of a chip implant industry, all connected to the cloud. Those brave souls that have gone from bluetooth headsets to iPod nano wristwatches are going to look less like film extras and more like the early adopters they are. We’ll wrestle with privacy and etiquette and fashion as these devices change the way we interact with one another, but people will inevitably gravitate towards what is easy and instantly available. More often than not, that will be the mobile in their pocket, the touchscreen on their arm, or the chip in their brain.
What does that mean for Xero? We make accounting software, right? Is the real work only done in front of a computer? Is the mobile version just a poor cousin to the web version, the dinghy that is pulled along in the wake of the larger application?
Xero’s always taken the view that accounting is something that is done by people. Strip all the job descriptions and titles away and you’re dealing with a human being who wants to get stuff done. Our philosophy informs every design decision, every page of documentation, and every email we issue from Customer Care. Mobile is in the privileged position of serving people when they’re away from their desks and busy being people. It’s present when they’re with customers, meeting potential business partners, when they’re in an airport lounge or having a night out. It’s the last thing they check at night, and the first thing they check in the morning.
It’s the mobile team’s job to help our customers be more effective individuals. To help them get work done on their way home or in the airport so they can spend more time with their family. To help them make better and faster business decisions by giving them the right information when they need it. To help them make meaningful connections with others. And it’s the team’s job to record ideas and actions and plan ahead.
Working in the mobile team is about refining the Xero experience, the whole experience, on the next generation of computing devices. It means developing new interface paradigms for small touch screens, while continuing to optimise and enhance the full site on tablets like the iPad. The roll-out of HTML5 charts which begins with the next release will be another significant step in that direction.
But it’s also about rethinking how accounting happens. Things like location, near-field communication, voice and image capture and mobile payments become the inputs we can use to help people get stuff done. We can talk about ideas like creating invoices through voice commands, and how touch has almost completely brought interface design back to first principles and created amazing new interactive possibilities. But that’s just the beginning. Mobile puts Xero closer in time and space to where business and accounting meets the real world of people and things. It’s high-octane IT.
I don’t think there’s more exciting work to be involved in right now. If you agree, you should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a lot of work to do.