Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Apps is Wrong!

Yes, this is what ZDNet Blogger Brian Sommer says!. In the post, Brian argues that 'Applications' are wrong perspective to have in todays' times. He adds businesses today don't want apps. Instead they need 'capabilities' to serve different kinds of information to a variety of users in different kind of devices.

Do I agree?. Partly, Yes - to the point that we need a different paradigm to deliver business capabilities.

Let's deep dive a little from this viewpoint.

Adding to Brian's message, my thoughts on Apps follow:

- Applications are old school of thinking.
They are good for accounting/transactional systems but not suitable for unstructured /
dynamic business scenarios.
- They are highly introverted & technical!. [No offense to Introversion! :-) ]
It simply means Apps think about themselves, their structure & data exchange rather than
connectivity to end users and their context.
- Applications are fragmented. Users need to hop-on and hop-off between applications to
accomplish tasks/processes. This gives a disjointed experience in terms of security,
profiling, etc.
- Applications are limited in their orientations - either processes or data.
[Today, we have lot more dimensions to express - social, multi-media, visual, spatial]

Despite new ages capabilities brought by mobile internet devices, We still keep developing applications and deliver in old ways. In fact, We are facing the problem of plenty where there are hundreds/thousands of apps. And We need another new range of apps called 'Helpers' which can assist in navigating the apps market place. (Guided Search).

What is the alternative?

Brian suggests delivering context-specific, Role-based, "smart" information to mobile internet devices through a common UI. He claims such a delivery would empower the end-users by enhancing their "business capabilities". Sounds convincing?. While I agree to the perspective that Apps are old-school, I dont quite agree 'Capabilities' are the way ahead. IMHO, Applications have always been capability enhancers to end users. Its just that they were not smart.

Where do I differ?

In some way, Brian's suggestion of - context-specific, role-based, common UI - reminds me another old school paradigm called 'Portals'. We all had portals in in the past, in the Web world. We have incarnations, in the mobile world as well. And there are quite a few Mobile Portal offerings that aggregate and provide context-specific, role based access to Apps. Yes, You would still have apps. But they would run behind the scenes - behind a Portal facade. And Portals came up with Single Sign-On, Context-Switching, Inter-connectivity, etc.

So, Do Portals solve the Fragementation Problem?. To certain extent, Yes. The flip side was Portals were heavy, resource-intensive and required wiring of applications. Portals were actually "Mega" Apps!.

So, What would be the new paradigm?

In my opinion, Apps and services are inevitable. They will continue to exist in near future as well, from technical implementation perspective. They are the modular units/building blocks of end user capabilities. They can be made "smart" by adding some intelligence to those applications. It is in the hands of the designers/developers to make it smart.

What we need today are - "Coherent Experiences".

For example, any user would have few limited profiles - Family, Work, Leisure, Travel, Learning. Users when login to those respective profiles, they should be able to accomplish their respective tasks/processes with much more ease - because the system proactively understands the context and prepares itself to serve smart information by leveraging the new technical capabilities such as social/video/spatial, etc. They would be inherently capable to provide a coherent experience by interoperating with various apps/services behind the scenes.

I am imagining such a solution would look wonderful on a tablet device or a Microsoft Surface kind of a device that can orchestrate various hardware/software components. Remember - You may still write apps. But the focus is more on orchestration and experience and not on 'creating' or 'building' applications.

I would like to ask - What experience are you trying to orchestrate for your customers?

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