MicroPact Blog

Some New Vocabulary for Mobile Computing

Coherence, Synchronization, Screen Sharing, Device Shifting, Complementarity and Simultaneity

January 24, 2013

Last October, I attended the Gartner ITxpo in Orlando. One of the most interesting and useful sessions I attended was presented by Gartner analyst, Gene Phifer, entitled The Future Web.  MicroPact’s Senior Technology Analyst, Sandeep Khare, provided a nice summary of the session in his post, The Future Web – Are We Ready for It?

One slide from Gene’s presentation struck me as especially interesting. I snapped a picture quickly, because I knew there were six new terms that I would want to add to my vocabulary as quickly as possible.

 

Without further ado, here is the new lingo, and a basic definition for each term:

Coherence

This term means that an application (or perhaps a web presence) has a similar look and feel, and offers similar functionality across a variety of devices, typically a smartphone, a tablet, a PC, and potentially television. Furthermore, coherence implies that the feature set available via each device has been optimized for that device.  For example, I happen to be a customer of GEICO insurance. Whether I’m visiting GEICO.com on my laptop, iPad or iPhone, I see similar branding and similar access to GEICO services. GEICO’s native app for iPhone makes features like Roadside Help more prominent than they are on geico.com, and leverages capabilities of that device like GPS services.

In my opinion, consumers are almost already to the point where coherence is a basic expectation of most businesses. However in my experience, maybe only 10-20% of companies I deal with have achieved a basic level of coherence. In most cases it seems like businesses are mostly struggling to provide full featured mobile extensions of their business. However in a few cases, the mobile app is far superior to the company’s primary digital presence. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Weather Channel – Both The Weather Channel’s on-air programming and website (weather.com) are grossly inferior to their highly useful mobile app.  (Full disclosure, I actually use the AccuWeather app which I think is significantly better.)
  • DirecTV – Searching and browsing for programming directly via my television is an almost prohibitively poor experience.  The satellite interface is painfully slow, and the television screen just isn’t large enough to provide a useful display of search results.  However DirecTV’s native apps for iPhone and iPad perform very well, and do a great job of displaying results.  When I’m looking for a movie to watch on DirecTV, I now start with a mobile device, not my television remote.

Synchronization

This term simply means that the data displayed to a user is synchronized across devices.  For an example, when I check my account balance at E*TRADE, I see the same dollar figure regardless of what device I’m using to access my account. Like coherence, I believe that most consumers already expect synchronization, without much appreciation for how difficult it may be to achieve.  I’m surprised by how often I will move back and forth between devices when doing the simplest things.  For example, I love the game Words with Friends.  I’ll frequently make one move from the living room with my iPhone, and make my next move 5 minutes later from the kitchen on my iPad.  I find it frustrating when it takes even a few seconds for my device to sync with the Words with Friends server.

Screen Sharing

The idea here is that multiple devices are displaying data from a single source. I’m engaged in this model as I write this post.  My laptop is connected to a larger monitor on my desk. I’m typing into Microsoft Word on the laptop screen and referring to content in my web browser on the larger screen. Both the laptop and my monitor are displaying data from the same source, providing a larger view and more room to work.

Device Shifting

As I mentioned with regard to synchronization, it’s a little mind-blowing to stop and think about how fluidly I move from device to device throughout the day.  Device shifting describes my desire to consume content through one device and move seamlessly to another device without interruption.  In my daily life, the best example is the way I listen to the radio.  I usually start my day listening to either NPR via their native app for iPhone, or to The Sports Junkies, a local radio show here in DC on 106.7 The Fan via the Radio.com app. The iPhone is playing while I take a shower, and follows me upstairs while I get dressed for work. When I jump in the car, I switch back to the radio in my car. Sometimes, I want to hear a few more minutes of radio as I walk from my car into the office. I switch back from the car to the iPhone as I walk to my desk.  And of course, if I still haven’t heard enough of my favorite program, I’m likely to listen to a podcast later that evening, either on my iPhone or iPad.

Complementarity

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The notion here is that use of one device improves or augments the experience on another device.  This is a model that I think a lot of people don’t see coming yet. My description of using DirecTV’s mobile interface to compensate for weakness of the television interface is a reasonable example, but I expect so much more in the future.  For years I’ve predicted that television shows will incorporate audience participation through smartphones and tablets.  Imagine an experience (think of Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) where contestants aren’t just a handful of individuals in-studio, but an audience of millions connected by mobile devices.

Simultaneity

I have a harder time distinguishing this model from the others and presenting good use cases.  But simply this model means that multiple devices are being used simultaneously.  I need to think more about how this model will be applied, but it is certainly the case that at times I am using my phone, tablet and laptop while watching television. I’m certain that we will see this behavior contemplated and supported in future applications.

Mobile Development at MicroPact

Here at MicroPact we’re continuing to get strong in mobile. We’re continuing to make investments in the entellitrak platform, allowing customers to seamlessly extend entellitrak-based applications to both smartphone and tablet users. But how do we match up against these emerging models of mobile interaction? There is obviously much more work to be done. I think we can fairly give ourselves full marks for Coherence; mobile users do have the ability to access optimized instances of entellitrak applications via smartphones or tablets. Our platform also somewhat naturally supports Synchronization. One could argue that we also support Screen Sharing, as no doubt users already interact with entellitrak applications across more than a single monitor. However there is probably much more to be done to fully support Device Shifting, Complementarity, and Simultaneity.  But rest assured, we’re working hard to stay at the forefront of mobile computing, and watching closely as new usage patterns emerge.