There is a lament about technology that usually begins with the anecdote “we put a man on the moon with less computing power than in today’s digital wristwatch.”
Just imagine what those engineers could have done with a smartphone – Houston, I think we have an app for that!
The workplace has seen the same kind of technological innovation, and there is no sign the pace of change will abate. In a little bit more than a decade, the phones have become a lot smaller and definitely a lot smarter; the apps are slicker and customizable; and the office is wherever you happen to have a combination of the two.
Need to run a meeting? No problem, grab your smartphone, tablet or laptop, fire up a couple of handy apps, and you can run the meeting. No one needs to know you are actually sitting in a beach chair in sunny Door County.
Survival in today’s workplace means not whether you can meet those expectations, but how you will spend your dollars so that you can.
For John Ptacek, a software engineer with Skyline Technologies, it all depends on the task at hand.
“The smartphone is a consumption device,” says Ptacek, who says he does a lot of his work on the road these days with his smartphone and a pad of paper. “I can exchange files, keep current on e-mails or make presentations. But I don’t like to create content on it.”
For tasks that call for more content creation, he still relies on a laptop. But for sharing information or presentations, the smartphone or other devices are usually all that is needed, Ptacek says.
With more of that information being stored in “the cloud” the need for a full laptop when on the go is declining rapidly.
“I keep a lot of things I need handy in the cloud such as my contacts or presentations,” he says. “I think we are seeing more businesses take that approach of making it easier for folks to get access to the data they need without having to be on site.”
While Ptacek can still see a need for a laptop or PC for certain functions, business and technology consultant Jeffrey A. Hayes is not sure that will last long.
“By the time the Millennials are in the workplace, the tablet will be the PC,” says Hayes, the principal of AlignTech Solutions, a Neenah-based IT consulting firm.
If there is any certainty in the constant evolution of technology, it is portability. When it comes to being on the go, the laptop is rapidly losing ground to the smartphone and the tablet.
“Almost all business people on the road carry a smartphone,” says Dave Pasini, senior vice president at Camera Corner Connecting Point. “At least, everyone should have one.”
From Android to iPhone to Blackberry, smartphones can be easily equipped to take care of most needs on the road, from staying in touch with contacts and the office to running presentations to reviewing documents and making small changes.
That’s a lot of power for the cost, which can be about $200 for the phone plus a data plan.
Plus, it’s a lot easier getting through airports or around town than the traditional laptop.
What has Pasini excited is the tablet. His shop already deals in the iPads, and in June is expecting the first shipments of the new Hewlett-Packard tabs, which he says promise to give iPad a run for its money. The tabs have greater computing power, yet are still compact enough (about 7 x 10 inches) to slip in a briefcase or larger pocket.
“Everything right now is about the tablet,” Pasini says. “But still, it’s not the same as a PC. If you are doing a lot of creating, you may still want the laptop for that.”
An iPad goes for about $900 retail. Pricing for the new HP product is still unknown, but is expected to be very competitive.
While the laptop still may have a role, Hayes is not convinced the tabs can’t be used to create content as well as manage it.
“The apps are important,” he says.
It seems that everyone has an app for that.
But what is the “that” folks are trying to accomplish? What does the savvy road warrior really need to be on the go but able to work from anywhere? Again, it depends somewhat on the tasks, but there seems to be some agreement on the basic necessities.
For Ptacek, the basics include an e-mail service, Twitter, a web browser and Drop Box. E-mail and Twitter allow him to stay connected to clients or the office while on the go, while Drop Box allows him to move large files. The apps range in price from free to a few dollars, so getting the tools does not have to cost much.
Hayes has a similar array of apps on both his phone and his iPad. While he uses some different tools for tweeting, he would also add another powerful suite of apps you can get for free: Google Apps.
“They continue to innovate,” Hayes says. “Plus, you only have to click on one icon to get to most of what you need.”
Hayes recommends the scheduling program Doodle. He also uses a voice-to-text dictation program that allows him to compose e-mails or text messages while on the go. He uses Dragon, which as he points out, “allows me to text and drive at the same time if I need to, while avoiding an accident.”
All are either free, or under a few dollars from most websites that sell apps. He does have one high priced item – Business Model – a program that allows him to run a meeting and collaborate with others. For him, once he used it, the $30 price tag was not much of a hurdle.
He also had Netflix and Sudoku,for both entertainment and clearing the mind.
Kim Komando, who hosts a weekly technology radio show, makes similar recommendations for essential phone and tablet apps. Her website also recommends a backup program such as Carbonite, which is subscription based, and a program that allows for Bluetooth file transfers.
All are powerful tools that can be had for a modest expenditure.
“Most of the essential can be had for basically free,” Hayes says. “Anything I am willing to pay for, I have either vetted myself or a colleague has recommended.”