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The mobile office of the future: software & hardware

Soon, the mobile office could make fixed offices as much of an anachronism as the desktop paradigm on your computer. In business, almost everything we do is liable to change, edging towards an ever-moving mobile metaphor…

With the right tools and the right workflow, your office could be wherever you are standing or sitting. Your meetings could be with whomever you’re conversing with, wherever you or they are in the world. Your appointments harvested from your email messages — added, agreed and acted upon.

The knowledge that we create and manipulate is not done so in a vacuum. In some way, what we do as business people is a shared experience, with our peers, our colleagues, clients and friends.

Prologue: The Mobile Office

As I stare into the future, I see a number of points on the horizon where key technology trends must first converge before the things that would make the possibility of a mobile office a reality.

If you want to be able to check your email at the wheel of your car (while stationary, of course), or consolidate your contacts from one social network into another, things must change. Such is life.

An endless succession of players — all with a part to play — enter this theatre of productivity. Many are loose ends, most are disparate means to a known but unattainable end.

Many of these players know the script off by heart, seasoned performers like Microsoft, Blackberry, IBM and Palm. They headline most years.

Some are in dress rehearsals, hoping to make their debut appearance in the near future a dazzling performance of technological prowess.

While others ad lib, they bestride the stage of office productivity with a fresh look seen on old faces, like Adobe and Apple.

In the following four acts, I will outline the environment that the nascent mobile office occupies and the terrain it must traverse before success is the destination.

Act I: The Software

Right now, monolithic applications like Adobe Photoshop are inexorably edging towards being web-based. As a result, pressure is being placed on Microsoft to compete with both Google Docs and the new Adobe BuzzWord:

“So things have changed, especially for Microsoft, in that they are utterly incapable of making a serious move towards the web with their Office suite. And the reason is? Because the perception is that anything that’s web-based can’t really command the same fees as its desktop-based counterpart.”

In any event, as with nature, business models abhor vacuums, too. What spaces that are left vacant and void by one business are soon filled by another.

Open formats for office software abound. Those with wide eyes see the benefit to allowing their customers to share with those using competing software. The greater goal is hardly altruistic, but it is about enabling people to collaborate and to share.

Productivity is a rare and capricious animal that fairs poorly from within the confines of the walled garden of proprietary business models. Here I speak of Apple, who’s penned-in iPhone has recently been seen out in the wilds, freely running with all kinds of applications.

Act II: The Hardware

Of course, much has been said of Apple and their iPhone, but they are not the only ones producing mobile devices that bring the web to your waistcoat, back pocket or briefcase.

In fact those other players, such as Blackberry and Nokia have more business-friendly offerings. But then, who said the iPhone was for businesses anyway?

So with the right device, the right mobile service plan and the right software, there are few hinderances to your mobile office ventures.

But a mobile office is more than small hand-held or palmtop devices. There’s still a seat for laptops in this performance. So I suppose it’s really a question of personal preference. For me personally, I’d prefer to have my MacBook Pro with me, to add some glitz & glamour to the presentation.

However, for all of the spectacle and sparkle, our performance is all for nought would it not be for a reliable, secure connection to the ‘Net, wireless preferably. With municipal wireless technologies looking less like future fantasy.

In this scenario, our mobile office excursions take on a very different complexion, one where we are not limited to the buildings we occupy, but their surroundings, too.

Intermission

And slowly, the pieces fall neatly into place. What was before a blank board is now filling with details in rude health.

Just before you rush off to the concessionary stands, to grab a drink of coffee, in Act III we will be dealing with the spoken & written word of modern communications. While in Act IV we shall delve into the swollen, brackish waters of sharing and storage…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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