Mobile usability

The business world’s suddenly gone mobile, with workers logging on to enterprise applications through handheld devices. Sounds good, but are mobiles really ready?

Increasing hype surrounding cloud computing suggests more and more enterprise apps will be accessed online. Email is already a mobile mainstay, thanks in large part to the speed of BlackBerry Enterprise Server. But for many other tools, there is still some way to go before mobile working becomes a business reality.

The most obvious facet of mobile devices is their size; they are – of course – much smaller than their desktop cousins. Which means that for content heavy processes, creating usable apps for smaller devices can be a difficult task.

Think of your key enterprise tools; think of how much space you need to work with and manipulate the information held on your spreadsheets. Now think about undertaking that manipulation on a web-based mobile device.

For enterprises, going truly mobile means making sure form and function supports usability. So, what do we need to do that is special for handheld devices?

Some experts believe the first port of call should be the programming language, with proponents keen to push the significance of XHTML Mobile Profile (XHTML MP), a hypertextual standard designed specifically for mobile devices. However, such a harbour would be the wrong destination for two key reasons.

First, XHTML MP is by no means a common framework; different devices require specific tweaks and adaptations. Second, processor power means mobile devices are no longer constrained and creating a specific framework is a waste of time and effort.

Technology has moved on and browser capability has improved. Flash and Java-based applications are also beginning to find a suitable home on portable technologies.

But other problems do remain paramount – and, notably, the screen is still small. If you are going to work with enterprise information, you will need a bigger display. And when it comes to displays for mobile devices, I am open to potential solutions.

Philips has pioneered developments in rollable screen technology, which could help users work on larger mobile devices. High definition colour and video-based formats are still some time away, however.

Plastic Logic, meanwhile, is just months away from launching the first electronic screen, an A4-sized intelligent display. But again, the company doubts the market is currently ready for the roll-out screen.

Give it time. In a few years, we will be all carrying enterprise-ready mobile devices that allow us to manipulate information on the move. And when I am right, you can remember that you heard it here first.


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