Many of the ease of use, form factor, and responsiveness promises made by mobile devices and software providers depends on an important underlying assumption: that you are consuming textual information way more than you are creating it. Sure, you may snap some photos, like/thumbs-up/+1 some stuff, and email or IM a sentence or two, but you’re waiting until you get to the office to really add new slides, write a 10 page document, create a slew of spreadsheet formulas, or enter new transaction records into your CRM/ERP system.
The “consumption assumption” may be fine for now. Even accessing enterprise information on mobile devices is still the exception for most information workers. But that world is expected to change, with more time being spent on mobile devices. So how will content creation needs be handled in 3, 5, or 10 years? I see a few options:
1. You’ll wait until you get back to the office to create non-trivial content (more than a few sentences, text that is formatted and polished, images laid out on a page)
2. You’ll muddle through data entry as allowed by the devices as a small price to pay for the convenience they offer. You can see that today at any conference where people are taking notes on iPad virtual keyboards, hands floating over the glass and eyes darting from presenter to screen on each word to see if it came out right due to the lack of tactile feedback.
3. You’ll hook up peripherals (keyboard, mouse, screen) to enhance data entry capabilities when needed.
OK, those first 3 are pretty much the status quo. What about some edge scenarios for how this could evolve?
4. Mobile devices will adapt to the need to create content by sacrificing some simplicity and slickness in order to provide richer content creation capabilities.
5. Non-trivial content will become endangered – if not extinct. Large-scale content creation won’t be needed anymore as people change expectations about receiving content. For example, people will get so used to terse, one line replies to their emails that they’ll stop expecting more context and the social cues that longer replies can provide. PowerPoint decks and multi-page Word docs will fade away since people won’t find enough time in front of full-sized interface setups to create them.
6. You’ll join a new information elite that doesn’t stoop to entering information. You can see this at work in the 2009 Productivity Future Vision video from Microsoft Office Labs. My blog entry satirizing this vision said that “Office workers will not create content anymore, such as typing long streams of text or slaving over the graphics in the beautiful interfaces they use. They simply do a few manipulations to content that already exists. Presumably a new underclass of information workers (I’ll call them ‘information morlocks’) slave away underground crafting detailed content that the surface dwellers can then use through simple, intuitive, tap-exhale-and-smile interfaces.”
Long term I think the content creation nut will have to be cracked by the mobile providers somehow. Whether it’s software or hardware innovations on the device, standardized peripherals available like kiosks, or something else I’m not sure. But I think creating textual content is still going to be of tremendous value and as more time is spent on mobile devices, something has to change so we can keep feeding the content beast from anywhere at any time.