Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The desktop is evolving. Is it mobile?

So, I wanted to write a blog on how the desktop is evolving - how we are using it to access information, generate content, how we interact with it at work and at home. I’m hoping to be less technical, more observational.

Photo of Banksy's Mobile Lovers by Vision Invisible.
Used under a Creative Commons license.
This recent work of art from Banksy seems to sum up exactly how we are all accessing and interacting with information in our daily lives. I think it’s a great picture - a couple embracing but also online, being in contact - physically and digitally.

So the traditional desktop - what is it? 

For most people it’s a PC on your desk with an operating system (eg Windows) and applications installed which allow us to do our work (whatever that happens to be).
This model has remained pretty stable for many many years and, yes, it has significantly improved over those years in terms of hardware, software and connectivity. 

But things are changing. The acronym BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has long been part of Higher Education environments and is just one of the factors affecting a change in desktop usage. So what are these devices? And why and how will this affect the desktop model? 

Well, I'm referring to staff and students using a mixture of mobile devices - smartphones, tablets, ultrabook laptops, Chromebooks etc. The point is, these devices are generally light, portable, fast, relatively (!) cheap and have a cloud based service or infrastructure around them to support the user (eg iCloud, Windows Store, Amazon, ebay or Google Play to name but a few ). The user has access to wide choice of smart, ever changing, exciting and powerful devices which allows them to access content anywhere in the world.

Consumer being the key word, these devices have come from this market and are entering the workplace. The popularity of Apple's iPad, iPhone and other competitor products have allowed users to make a choice about how they access ‘digital stuff’, not just on the PC but also on their smart device. These devices are now the norm in the business/education space - used to access work related content such as email, calendar, shared data and documents, but also used as the device of choice to interact with others on a personal level - making calls, acessing social media, using instant messaging, storing personal information, playing games, accessing movies or music, taking photos - witness the rise of the selfie :-) All simple, easy to use (kind of...) and ready to go - these really are smart devices. 

So back to the desktop - is it evolving? Yes, I think it is.

The device is changing, the user is mobile, the user needs to access their digital content whether it’s personal or work-related, and this is what we can see now:
  • We can make the traditional desktop applications (eg Word, Matlab etc) available on these various smart devices, using Virtualisation (VDI) or streaming apps technologies
  • The user isn’t bothered about the operating system - they just want access to the applications as they roam and move between different devices (PC, laptop, tablet) 
  • Some users never even use local applications - they simply run a web browser with multiple tabs open, accessing everything via different web based applications as traditionally native (locally hosted) desktop applications can now be found in the public cloud
  • Go to a meeting now, and you will notice those around you working on their mobile device at the same time - taking notes, multi-tasking perhaps, collaborating, sharing. A few years ago, this might have been considered bad manners - has it now become the norm?
  • We love our gadgets -  we love having the latest smart device, and many of us have a mix of devices
But let's take a step back, this is not happening overnight - the traditional desktop has plenty of life in it yet. Not every business, every individual or even every application finds their home on the mobile platform. We continue to support the traditional desktop, even as technically we are moving in the direction of the mobile platform for some aspects of IT. 

As the desktop evolves, some things don’t change - having a safe, secure infrastructure in place to support personal and application data is as vital for mobile devices as it is for the traditional  desktop. Currently most users access IT in a mixed way,  swapping from desktop to mobile depending on location, application and device performance - making their own decisions to get the best user experience. We’re in a phase of transition which continues to evolve - and perhaps one day the desktop will become completely mobile? 


  1. Some food for thought here. Although I regularly use a range of devices, I know I'd miss the physical scale of the desktop screen & keyboard if I had to use 10" pad for everything. Do all design teams all have very tiny, pointed fingers and extremely good eyesight?

  2. A dystopian nightmare for some and a utopian dream for others. Whilst the image by Banksy is an excellent depiction of human social interaction which we see all around us, it is also in my view a dig at what is wrong with society rather than what is right with technology. If we are to develop in a healthy way, we need to know when to put down the tech, switch off the email, ignore the invasive buzz of Twitter, Facebook etc etc and take time to live in the moment: just to be. I do not doubt the many benefits to work from a truly mobile media consumption and viewing device for many people, but we need to retain the ability to focus. Meetings with people "multi-tasking" are not what I would call efficient. People cannot truly multi-task and run the risk of losing the point, missing the important detail in that meeting if they are distracted by reading or writing emails, in much the same way that we cannot drive and text simultaneously, even though many people think they can. Is the desktop evolving? You make strong points that it is, but I feel that for many, the creation and recording of ideas is done on the desktop and the dissemination or ready access to that data is served by the mobile device. Long may they both live, but we, as humans, need to be able to tune in and turn on but we also need to be able to drop out.


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