iPad: Changing the Way We Use Computers

With the iPad's release and growing adoption of touchscreen smartphones, it's only a matter of time before natural user interfaces become a mainstream IT requirement.

Useful, Usable, and Desirable Applications

I've been spending some time learning about enterprises that are evolving their Web applications for devices other than a personal computer. Several increasingly related trends are behind this evolution:

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  • Enterprises are adopting Web 2.0 design and interaction practices -- yes Web 2.0 is still an investment area for enterprises
  • These enterprises are being pushed by their users, and their competitors, to expose enterprise applications to mobile devices
  • Enterprises are beginning to expand social interactivity and communications enablement inside of their Web applications
  • Enterprises are beginning to expose their Web application content to third-party sites by exposing APIs to their enterprise Web applications; this is being done to deliver content to users where users are versus expecting users will always end up on the enterprise Web site

The central driver behind these four trends is, not surprisingly, to deliver better user experiences. However, "better" tells only half the story. After reading Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri's post about user experience, I realized that "better" really means experiences that are useful, usable, and desirable.

Growing Interest in Natural User Interfaces

As serendipity would have it, Forrester's Jeffrey Hammond just wrote about natural user interfaces, which absolutely embody useful, usable, and desirable user experiences. Forrester and a Dr. Dobbs Developer survey conducted in fall 2009 suggest that multitouch and NUIs (natural user interfaces) weren't exactly at the top of the list of emerging trends that respondents were interested in. However, "mobile apps," "RIAs," and "social networking apps" -- which were in the top trends -- are very much related to natural user interfaces.

An enterprise building out an RIA or social networking application has to consider how that application will behave on a mobile device. As such, the interest in natural user interfaces is likely understated and growing every day. Jeffrey goes on to write:

Next, add Walt Mossberg's review of the iPad:

If the iPad can live up to even half of its hype, enterprises will soon begin to target it as they have the iPhone and iPod Touch. For instance, here's a great iPhone application from USAA that lets users deposit checks by taking a picture of the check. Appcelerator just released mobile developer survey data that continues to show interest in building applications for devices that enable natural user interfaces, such as the iPad, iPhone, and Android platform.

Broad Reach or Highly Tailored Experience

One of the biggest challenges that enterprises face in building useful, usable, and desirable user experiences is selecting the device to design for. An application that receives rave reviews from iPad users won't necessarily run on an Android device or a BlackBerry. Open source mobile app dev products from PhoneGap, Appcelerator, and Rhomobile seek to address this issue by insulating developers and applications from the underlying mobile device the application will run on.

It remains to be seen whether enterprises will select the device-agnostic or native-device route when designing new application experiences. The former approach allows the enterprise to reach a larger customer base than the latter approach does -- a very important consideration when facing constrained IT budgets.

If the mobile device and operating system race ends in a two-horse race between iPhone/iPod/iPad and Android, we may well see enterprises targeting each with native applications. However, today, the BlackBerry and Symbian platforms are too large to ignore. In any case, now would be a good time for IT departments to begin proof of concepts to consider whether a device-agnostic or native-device application is appropriate for the needs of the business and its users.

As a user, I can't help but get excited about these new user experiences. Oh, and I still want flying cars.

Follow me on Twitter at: SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "iPad to drive demand for natural user interfaces," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source and mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

Product mentioned in this article

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  • Apple iPad Tablet Computer

    Apple looks set to shake up casual computing with a tablet that offers clever design and ease of use. But that streamlined approach may also be the iPad's weakness.

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