Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Expressing the Application…

by: Eric Eckstein

The Microsoft® Embedded OS strategy refinement continues with the release of some new clarifying information. CEO Steve Ballmer, made an announcement “reaffirming” Microsoft’s commitment to the “specialized devices” market which sets a revised direction by adding a “new” product based upon Mobile 6.5 (in six months) to be called Windows® Enterprise Handheld (still based upon Windows CE 5 technology with its process and other limitations). A year after that, Microsoft will release a new OS based upon Windows 7 Handheld which will be based upon CE 6 R3 (which is available now).

For the enterprise specialty device market (Microsoft’s term for what is basically a bar-code driven semi-rugged handheld computer), this is largely a clarification and an acknowledgment that Mobile OS software needs a path forward. That’s good for those who sold into that market and have solutions currently. It will give them time to migrate those applications to the CE6 underlying model and begin to utilize the newer Silverlight® and Expression Blend® APIs to update their applications.

Of note is that Microsoft has finally done their interpretation of a direct comparison of CE and Mobile. Of interest is that a key feature of Mobile is claimed to be “Portability across devices”. This is really interesting in that Mobile applications have never really been truly “portable” the way desktop applications are due to the nature of the required specific peripherals such as bar-code readers, RFID, cameras, GPS systems or other “specialty” sensors for the “specialty device market”. This has not been a large issue as almost all application solutions are routinely customized for the specific manufacturer’s handheld device anyway whether it is Windows Mobile® or Windows CE (largely a choice of user interfaces).

The real question is why we, as developers and marketers in the specialized handheld device market are focusing on the OS user interface in the first place? The OS GUI paradigm is required for a general purpose computer, especially things like laptops and desktops. However the most successful “specialized” devices in the world all suppress the OS (even though they have one) and focus on the specific application they are intended to perform (think the Apple® iPod® for example).

I like to call this development paradigm “Expressing the Application and Suppressing the Computer” or E&S. E&S focuses on the end-user having the knowledge and experience to perform their job, and frankly not caring or being concerned about the computer portion of the handheld computer. Granted, some markets require access to the OS, such as “PDA” or the newer Smart Phones, which do require that the user/operator be able to use the OS to switch applications, transfer files, do housekeeping chores, etc. since their main purpose is to be a general computing device. But the vast majority of solutions in the “specialized devices” market do one application and one application only (by design and intent) on any given device… So why expose the all-purpose OS to the end-user?

The benefits of EA&SC are all focused on the application solution and end-user operation. EA&SC provides for very low training and deployment costs by only exposing to the operator both in the “specialized” hardware and the design of software tasks and the information required for the job function they are performing. This focus also clearly follows through to lower technical support costs. The more dedicated (in Microsoft terms “specialized”) the handheld device is to help personnel out with a given process or job function, the more likely they are to adopt and utilize it in an efficient manner thereby also lowering the initial resistance many users have to newer technology and systems.

In the longer term view of the solution, E&S also improves the payback to the stakeholders who finance the IT investment. It does this by forcing the justification and payback to be based primarily on the handheld solution improving the performance and quality of the specific business process it was intended for, not on subsequent add-ons and “best practice” metrics which never seem to materialize.

E&S is not new. Application specific (OK, specialized) handheld devices have been improving business practices for decades. An excellent example would be the UPS DIAD series which stands for the Delivery Information Acquisition Device and was developed and deployed by UPS. The DIAD has been quite successful for UPS and they consider it the integral part to their deliver process system. The current field release of the line, the DIAD IV, does not look or act like a typical PDA or enterprise handheld computer at all, because it was not meant to be… The DIAD, while based on CE, did not expose the OS at all to the operator, because the operator’s job is not to care for a computer, but to perform their daily delivery tasks efficiently to deliver our products on time.

Thoughts? Comments? It would be a pleasure to gain your insight. Scroll down to leave a comment, reach me a 2e@2t.com or join us on Facebook.

Author: Eric Eckstein, President and COO, Two Technologies, Inc.
Learn more about Two Technologies rugged handheld computers at http://www.2t.com/

1 comment:

  1. Any book by Don Norman but especially "The Invisible Computer"(1998) is worth the read. Norman is probably the nation's foremost "expert" (quotes because I don't know what make someone an expert) on E&S. He's also was the driving force for Apple Computer's user interfaces. True E&S is not new and only the name has been changed. The typical cycle for development of a device, e.g. iPod, begins with a general device and then eliminates any UI not needed for the task. Think of designing a tape player and you have the iPod UI. The menu system, in Apple's jargon the finder program, needed to be reatined in order to select different songs or albums which is analouous to selecting a different tape. This last step is usually not performed by most hand held companies.

    Good article.