Recently, Jenn Webb interviewed Josh Marinacci, an expert on user interfaces and on Java development. The interview, “Josh Marinacci: 90% will rely on mobile, but 10% will still need desktops”, focused on the nature of the transition from reliance on full-size desktop and laptop devices to use of smaller devices for some of the same purposes.

Marinacci made the following comments:

“I think that in less than a decade, 90% of people will use a smartphone or tablet as their primary computing interface. They might have some shared computer with a keyboard for when they need to type in a long essay, but almost all of their time will be spent on these smaller devices. It will simply meet their needs better than a traditional PC. … However, the remaining 10% need something more. These are the people whose jobs are to create and process significant amounts of information. … These people need the physical assets of a traditional computer: high-speed input and output through a large monitor and physical keyboard. They also need the processing power and UI flexibility provided by a traditional desktop OS. It would seem like a lot of people should fall into this category, but I really think it’s only about 10%.”

These are some interesting thoughts. My own take on them is that there is indeed a transition happening, but the 80/20 rule applies, and the cloud will play an important part.

20% of our time we will need the 80% machine, and 80% of our time we will need the 20% machine. Just about every office worker or knowledge worker will need a big machine for 20% of their work and will need the smaller devices for 80% their work. The challenge then becomes the coordination and synchronization of the various devices. This is where cloud-based services will come in handy. For example, creating a mammoth PowerPoint slide set for an all-day workshop should be done on the “big” machine. You should be able to run it off the “small” machine at the workshop by accessing from the cloud (with a thumb drive backup, of course).

This means that while not everyone will have both a big machine and a small machine, companies will need more than 10% use of the big machines. They might need more like 50%. That is, for a knowledge workforce of 1,000, they’d need 1,000 small devices and 500 big devices. This could require some sort of sharing arrangement, but this becomes easier with data in the cloud. I also think the 10% number is too small in general. Anyone who works all day on a computer needs a big monitor along with a regular sized keyboard. Perhaps the small device will connect to these via cable or Bluetooth, but this adds additional complications that could be harder for IT to support (or maybe not).

Another complication is the type of work. At an accounting firm, everyone needs the big machines at the same time, such as audit season or tax season.

Outside of the office world, there will be much less demand for the big machines, that’s for sure. As Marinacci points out, most of what many people do now with computers could be done with an iPad. For example, when you create a PowerPoint presentation for a talk at your garden club, using a wireless keyboard is adequate, but as a knowledge worker you need more resources at your command. There is no question that use of smaller devices relative to larger ones will increase rapidly in the near future. We already have the technology; it’s largely a matter of how we adapt it.

Jay Ven Eman
CEO, Access Innovations, Inc.