Right now, you’re in the middle of a profound transformation in how your employees and consumers use their digital devices – and another big change is on the horizon.
In the good old days…
Going back 10 or 20 years, there was little ambiguity in how most people ran their software and accessed online services. It was on a desktop or laptop PC.
When it came to software, most of it was developed to run on a particular operating system (or set of system software). In most cases, that operating system was Microsoft Windows, except for Apple Macs, which ran Mac OS. (There were a few other niche choices as well, such as the Amiga and desktop Linux.)
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Meanwhile, because connections to the early internet were just so slow, if you wanted network services in your office, it meant maintaining a server in a backroom somewhere and connecting all those computers with an Ethernet cable.
The times, they are a-changin’
From about 2007 onwards, the rise of the smartphone began to change all that. As I’ve discussed previously, smartphones overtook desktop computers as the main devices people use to run software or access the internet. According to some figures, the average smartphone user now looks at his or her device 221 times each day.
The humble computer is now one of a growing number of secondary screens that gets used in conjunction with the smartphone. It has since been joined by a growing list of other secondary screens, from tablets to smart TVs and smartwatches to in-car entertainment systems.
Increasingly, users – whether they’re your consumers or employees, and whether they’re using these devices for work and play – want them to work together seamlessly.
And, as mobile and fixed-line broadband internet connections have sped up, things that businesses used to do on a backroom server can instead be outsourced from a server in someone else’s data centre. In other words, from the cloud.
Another big shift is in the works
Now, there’s another big shift that’s on the horizon for next year. It comes from the big tech giants – Apple, Microsoft and Google – responding to this trend.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has made it clear a single app will be able to run across a range of devices, from the company’s smartphones, through to tablets, desktop PCs and eventually Xboxes.
The operating system code and user interface might be different from device to device, but the Windows 10 ecosystem will work as a single seamless platform.
With iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite, Apple has added a feature called Handoff that allows users to seamlessly switch between a version of an app running on their iPhone to the iMac on their desk.
Google has gone a step further. As with Windows 10, apps written for smartphones and tablets running Android can now run on its Chromebook laptops. Meanwhile, there are versions of Android written for wearables (Android Wear), smart cars (Android Car) and TVs (Android TV). And, like Apple, it has a “handoff” feature of its own.
In short, the age of the PC operating systems as the basis of your software and services is over. These days, it’s all about platforms that run across a number of devices.
What this will mean for you
There are two huge implications for business.
If your business develops apps, or has a website, the challenge will be to get it working seamlessly across a range of different devices.
It might be worthwhile thinking ahead of time about how you’d want your apps to function on a TV controlled by a remote control, as opposed to in a car, a voice-activated smartwatch or a touch-controlled smartphone.
And for all businesses, the big challenge will be how to manage a workforce that increasingly uses a range of devices for work, with some running Google/Android, others running Apple, and others still running Microsoft/Windows. (And that’s assuming there aren’t any BlackBerry loyalists about.)
Back in the days when there was a PC on every desk or a company phone in every pocket, running all the devices from a single platform was feasible. But for most businesses, it won’t be feasible to buy employees a company car and a company smartwatch and a company smart TV and a company smartphone and a company tablet and a company PC (that said, your employees will love you if you do).