Tablets Could Be the Key to Bringing UC&C To Mobile Devices
People love tablets, and for "semi-mobile" (most tablet use is while seated), the larger screen offers a more functional platform for UC&C.
Enterprise Connect 2013 has just wrapped up, and once again co-chairs Fred Knight and Eric Krapf put together what continues to be the premier event for unified communications and collaboration (UC&C). As I help put together the Wireless and Mobility track, I get to see close up just how much time and effort (and occasional aggravation) goes into getting over 150 sponsors and exhibitors and over 5,000 attendees together for three and a half information-packed (and exhausting) days.
On the Mobility track, the UC&C vendors continue to tout the importance of mobility and the capabilities of their mobile UC clients, but in my regular show-of-hands attendee survey at my Deep Dive session on Managing Mobility, we once again found precious few customers who were actually using those mobile UC solutions. Even those who did have some deployments reported only a handful of their system users picking it up. However, maybe things are about to change.
One of my objectives at the show was to kick-off a market survey and comparison of mobile UC offerings on tablets and smartphones, and to that end I spent several hours on the exhibit floor getting demos on as many of those products as I could. What I found was, there are definite leaders and followers when it comes to mobile UC- I won't name them, because I didn't get to see everyone's product as yet.
The biggest thing I noticed was the expanded range of functions that are being delivered in the various mobile UC clients and the differences in the design approaches. Where "mobile UC" was once a synonym for "fixed mobile convergence" and focused almost exclusively on voice calling, most platforms now offer voice, text and email access along with presence-enabled directory. Many have added the ability to place point-to-point video calls and participate in multi-party video conferences as well as access to web collaboration and screen sharing. Some offer the full menu on either smartphones or tablets, while others reserve video and collaboration for larger-screen tablet devices.
The capabilities are typically spread among two or more apps, though the implementations generally allow users to jump fairly painlessly between them. For example, most will have separate apps for voice-text versus collaboration, however, if you're in the voice-text app you can click on a link that automatically opens the conferencing app and joins you to a conference. Similarly, if you want to compose an email, clicking the mail icon automatically launches the email app.
So with all of this marvelous functionality, why do we see so little real world adoption? The answer is simply that the UC&C vendors have to work around the restrictions placed on them by the different mobile ecosystems. Typically those restrictions include denying access to the native dialer, the thing you use to place calls. The result is that each UC&C vendor has to build their own dialer, package it in an app, and the user has to go to that app to make their business calls. The result is you have one process for making personal calls and a completely different process to make business calls, though the vendors do try to make their dialers as similar as possible to the native interface. While there are some nice-to-have features like presence status, users get virtually everything they need in the native dialer, directory, text, and email clients that come with the device, and they stick with that.
However, all is not lost, and the big change agent I see is the tablet. People love tablets, and for "semi-mobile" (most tablet use is while seated), the larger screen offers a more functional platform for UC&C. The other major element is the fact that tablets do not include a traditional cell phone capability, so their communications must be over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular services.
Normally not having something is not an advantage, but with tablets and UC&C, the reverse is true. Since a tablet has no dialer, there's no dialer to "work around." In essence with a tablet, all applications that make use of communications are on an equal footing. I also don't see users making phone calls with a tablet, because even the best headsets are uncomfortable after an hour or so. More likely, users will use the tablet for emails, texts, and to participate in conferences, and they might initiate a call on the tablet but would move it to a desk phone or mobile phone. The exception to that might be conference calls where the tablet is used as a speakerphone.
In the end, tablets are not replacing smart phones, they're augmenting them. The tablet is one more mobile device that users will be bringing into the workplace, and the vendors are going to have to come up with solutions that allow users to move seamlessly among their smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop devices, as they will bounce between them throughout the day for different tasks and in different areas. The UC&C vendors have been fighting a losing battle in demonstrating value in their smartphone apps, but the solution may be to intelligently incorporate the tablet in the mix.