Waiting for the Era of Post-PC Productivity? It’s Already Here.

One of the most popular questions clients ask me is, “When will tablets be used for productivity, rather than just consumption?” My answer: They already are, but in different ways than we have come to expect from the PC era. Microsoft’s launch of Office 2013 puts its productivity suite on Windows tablets and smartphones as well as PCs, but in many ways it’s late to the party. Software start-ups like WatchDox, as well as established software firms like Adobe, Brainshark and Cisco, have all created innovative products that exploit the productive capabilities of post-PC devices.

Tablets, smartphones and future devices like wearables are tools of a new era of post-PC productivity. The best productivity apps for these devices invent ways to be productive using limited input — that is, enabling input through touch, voice, cameras, sensors and other native capabilities of the device. For example, with Adobe’s Proto tablet app, users can design real wireframes in seconds by drawing shapes with a fingertip (e.g., drawing a triangle is a placeholder for a video asset) — it doesn’t require typing or precise designed-for-mouse menu navigation.

Combining the native capabilities of post-PC devices with cloud connectivity yields powerful new productivity scenarios that weren’t available in the PC era, such as:

  • On-screen, in-person presentations. With a laptop, the screen is a wall that divides participants; tablets enable participants to share a screen, and their lightweight, instant-on form factor makes spontaneous presentations possible in hallways or trade show floors — not just conference rooms. Pharmaceutical sales reps often use SlideShark on the iPad for one-on-one hallway presentations with doctors; they can send doctors the presentation as a leave-behind, which cuts the cost of paper collateral and also includes tracking and reporting features.
  • Scanning, processing and sharing from a single, portable device. The combination of a high-quality camera combined with the ability to annotate and share documents condenses document workflow. Bill Taylor, a product manager overseeing the PaperPort product at Nuance Communications, describes one such scenario: “We see lawyers sitting at the table next to a client, reviewing and marking up a document with the client, and having the client initial it right there. Instead of printing out the document and sticking it in a paralegal’s bin, he shares it through the cloud to a business partner who sends it back, accomplishing twice the work in half the time.”
  • Remote, anywhere document access, editing and sync. While a higher percentage of PC workers compared with tablet workers use word processing and spreadsheet applications, usage is still high for both of these applications on tablets: 60 percent and 53 percent, respectively, even though the most popular editing software, Microsoft Office, is not yet available as a native app on iPad or Android tablets. That gap has created a business opportunity ($30 million in revenue in 2011) for Quickoffice (recently acquired by Google), whose products allow users to remotely access, search, edit, sync and share documents across devices, platforms and cloud services.
  • Multimodal note-taking, ideation and mind-mapping. Note-taking and ideation are not new, but post-PC devices enhance these activities with dimensions they didn’t have on the PC. Evernote’s 30 million users take notes using multiple input modes, including text, voice, images from the camera, screen shots, location services, files and third-party data from other apps such as LinkedIn.

Post-PC devices — via their app stores — also mark a shift in the way productivity software is distributed and monetized. Selling directly to end users via app stores requires different strengths than selling to the enterprise or selling to retail stores where consumers bought software in the PC era — and it levels the playing field for small developers to compete. “Apple’s App Store has turned software development into a global cottage industry — there has never been a time in history when one person could build and distribute a product globally,” says Craig Scott, CEO of iThoughts. Andrew Sinkov, VP of marketing for Evernote, puts it this way: “Thank God app stores exist.” When Evernote started in 2008 on Mac, Windows and Windows Mobile, “It was almost impossible to download an app.” Now, he says, 80 percent of new users come through mobile app stores.

While app stores are a boon to start-ups, they disrupt the pecking order for established software companies. Jill Soley, group product manager of Adobe’s Creative Cloud and suite of touch apps, recognizes the threat from post-PC competitors: “If mature companies don’t recognize that the world is changing and change with it, you won’t last long.” Upstarts such as iThoughts anticipate that competition will bring prices down. “A lot of companies are going to have to adjust to software getting cheaper,” says CEO Craig Scott, noting that Mindjet, the leading mind-mapping software for the PC, is $300, while the iThoughts app is $10.

We’ve seen this pattern of digital disruption before, most notably in the media industries. Now software faces its disruptive moment. We expect to see new competitors steal share from PC-era giants. New power players will emerge, especially those like Box and Salesforce that create an ecosystem of apps that work together. And we expect great outcomes for workers, as software companies invent new ways for us to be productive in the post-PC era.

Sarah Rotman Epps is a Senior Analyst serving consumer product strategy professionals at Forrester Research. Follow her on Twitter @srepps. To learn more about this research, visit the full wearables research report here.

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