End user computing... Could Apple take over the world?
21 Sep, 2017

End user computing... Could Apple take over the world?

Yes i know - it’s a very long article, but bear with me. This is my take on what the near future of end user computing could be like. With explanations, arguments and all. As you’ll see it also hints at a huge opportunity that could potentially see Apple gain a much more dominating position. 

 

But first a little history lesson:

 

End user computing has gone through several major changes in the last 40 years. These changes has been defined by how technology developed and allowed itself to adopt to the requirements we pursued.

Early on there was only one type of end user computing - the corporate one. This saw humans using mainframes and later on desktop computers to solve complicated corporate tasks faster than ever before. 

 

"In reality the major game changer for end user compute devices has been the invention of the Internet"

Along with the invention of the PC a new type of end user computing was created - the Personal one. All of a sudden people wanted to do personal computing, and with the advent of gaming, e-mail, surfing, digital photography, social networks and such this has only gotten bigger and bigger.

Since the PC, several major changes to the end user device has happened because of new OS’es, ever more powerful hardware going smaller and smaller, the invention of laptops and later on mobile phones and pads. This also saw the corporate and personal end user device types merge. A PC, laptop or smartphone could be used in both scenarios - but a device continued to be either personal or corporate in terms of software, management and usage.

In reality the major game changer for end user compute devices has been the invention of the Internet. This made real mobile computing possible with network access almost everywhere - both from the corporate and the personal perspective.

But while the Internet gave us mobility, it still didn’t change the division of end user devices into either a corporate or a personal device.

 

Where are we now?

 

The division into corporate or personal devices comes from a company's application compatibility and security need to control the device that has access to all the company resources. The main issues here being protection against theft of intellectual property and loss of data/productivity to viruses and ransom ware.

To further complicate matters the company and personal device category is sub divided into several types of devices where users change device depending on location and the task at hand. Example: Desktop for photoshop, laptop for surfing, phone for social network.

The capabilities of each device and the historical ways of doing things, has left major applications and certain data available on only some types of devices/OS’es

"But while the Internet gave us mobility, it still didn’t change the division of end user devices into either a corporate or a personal device"

A lot of initiatives has been taken to bridge both the sub-category and inter-category device gap. Both corporate and personal software has become increasingly terminal-based, web-based and now cloud based to create some software isolation and provide some level of device independence. That way the end user device becomes less important as long as a decent browser or device specific app is available. 

But this software availability does not really once and for all address the issue of company vs. Personal devices because the compatibility and security issues on each device remains basically the same from a corporate standpoint. A particular great example of this is key loggers.

If you make your software available on all devices via web services you have to go through great lengths to authenticate the user and make sure he’s authorized, but you cannot guard yourself against a key logger installed on whichever device the user is using. This compromises your users and potentially also the access they have to data.

 

Where are we going?

 

It is in my opinion inevitable that compute devices becomes small and powerful enough that they will become 100% personal and wearable. Only the connectivity to external devices differentiates whether it’s used for ultra mobile, mobile or stationary work. But this is a fairly long term prediction and does not address the personal vs. Corporate software problem.

For the more immediate future the smartphone in particular and social networks along with the general internet services of today has made the personal computing category so pervasive that we all carry a device now. The personal compute device category is now MUCH bigger than the corporate device category. 

So the question becomes: Should we really carry two devices to satisfy the corporate software need as well? As funny as it may seem - if you look at all the progress we have made - we are still very much divided into these two categories when it comes to computing devices. 

 

The challenge is this: We need to merge the corporate and the personal software into one unified device - optimally both stationary and mobile - and maintain compatibility and corporate security!

"The capabilities of each device and the historical ways of doing things, has left major applications and certain data available on only some types of devices/OS’es"

 

Some considerations: 

 

Microsoft actually saw some of these points many years ago - but unfortunately they made two critical mistakes in trying to address and solve this problem: 

1: They missed the mobile phone revolution and lost their opportunity in the ultra mobile marked. Android and iOS won this race and is unlikely to be dethroned - they have critical mass in marked and apps - something newcomers cannot obtain now. This means Microsoft has lost the opportunity to create the unified device until hardware evolves considerably more than where it is today. And this is simply because Windows is no longer a viable option when people satisfies their need for the biggest personal computing device - the smartphone.

2: They then tried to create the unified experience by porting windows to all platforms and ask devs to recreate all their apps to this new format. You do not take a big and powerful non-touch desktop oriented OS and turn it into a thin OS on another CPU architecture where your great pool of legacy apps does not run, nor work without a mouse. But they got one thing right here - they thought of a unified experience - something we will probably see again. Perhaps hardware advances in the future will reopen this door for microsoft?

"The challenge is this: We need to merge the corporate and the personal software into one unified device - optimally both stationary and mobile - and maintain compatibility and corporate security!"

Actually they made a third “mistake” 30 years ago and this can only be seen in hindsight with today's knowledge.  They made Windows open and customizable on all accounts - just like Android is on mobile phones now.  This openness won Microsoft the PC marked and Android the mobile phone marked, but today it is also becoming their Achilles heel. It creates a compatibility issue with all the different hardware and OS/browsers/apps versions out there and it creates a monumental security problem because your OS is open for all kinds of tightly integrated malware - like a key logger.

 

So the main problem preventing convergence today is security and compatibility. To resolve both you need two things:

  1. A very closed eco system with tight control over the hardware/software to ensure software versioning and guard against general malware.
  2. 100% personal computing devices with bio metric authentication so you can trust other users didn’t compromise the device before you use it.

 

"This openness won Microsoft the PC marked and Android the mobile phone marked, but today it is also becoming their Achilles heel"

 

Enter Apple!

 

Right now Apple is the only company with a solution that has the immediate potential to become the unified device - and I would propose - also the unified experience Microsoft thought of with windows on all platforms. With iOS Apple has the slim ultra mobile touch oriented OS with very tightly controlled single user bio metrically authenticated hardware/software. This platform has the security and compatibility that companies need to allow for combining personal and corporate computing on the same device. 

This OS started thin, mobile and touch oriented and can grow to accommodate the needs of the desktop - thus becoming the unifed experience as well. Indeed iPad has already embarked iOS on this journey by the 2in1 laptop approach they are working on. Add the opportunity for a mouse in iOS, and lots of desktop work can run on this platform as well. Add a proper docking solution and both the phone and pad can become a fully fledged laptop or desktop - the latest editions are pretty powerful devices in their own right. There is the small matter of legacy application compatibility (windows, linux, MacOS), but remote desktop services could address parts of that problem.

 

Where could this go?:

 

If Apple play their cards right, they would allow for a mouse on iOS if the device is docked in a special apple designed docking station. We already know iOS can do partial laptop replacement, and with a special docking station your iPhone/iPad could change identity between an iPhone/iPad and a laptop/desktop computer. iOS does most of this already between running on an iPad or an iPhone, with a mouse it could go a lot further. This would create a completely new situation in your average company: Issue an iPhone to all employee’s, discard the classic computer all together and have 100% personal devices. This would remove the need for physical desktop maintenance and provide an authentication model that is the user and device combined to have remote access to the company software. Any desktop oriented software not capable of running on iOS is run on a Terminal Server and accessed securely by the user/device combination from a dock or a laptop configured iPad.

Your only task is to make sure your company software runs great on an iOS app or in the current safari version if it is not accessed by remote desktop. Company policy should dictate that any locally created content on the devices should be saved in the company dropbox/owncloud/sharepoint or whatever file infrastructure the company uses.

There would no longer be a distinction between remote and on premise in terms of networking, so network security would be extremely simple to achieve.

"If Apple play their cards right, they would allow for a mouse on iOS if the device is docked in a special apple designed docking station"

Apple has the critical mass that would see hotels, convention centers and so on setup this special apple docking station for public use, so desktop computing would be available everywhere within a short time frame - but this time without the risk of key loggers, viruses and so on because each user brings the entire device themselves and that even includes bio metric authentication. How sweet is that?

 

The iPhone could end up as the future of end user computing from a corporate standpoint because it also gives employees a personal device. This would probably see iOS device adoption rise for non corporate users as well.

 

Android would have no chance of achieving similar success because of the fragmented hardware base, myriads of OS versions available and the openness to malware it provides.

 

Do we want Apple in this situation? No! 

 

Luckily i doubt it will happen as Apple usually is their own worst enemy, with the strict doctrins and fixed solutions they insist on. Such a simple thing as a mouse in iOS is probably never happening, and then the entire model described becomes impossible. Like it or not, a mouse is still required for general computing for many years to come. It's still - by far - more effective than touch for several kinds of computing tasks.

A dock would also eat into the Mac marked... something apple would go to great lengths to prevent.

 

So what’s the alternative? To be honest, probably a fragmented end user computing space, like we have now for the foreseeable future. I could venture a guess on a solution, but I doubt that’s a very realistic scenario. Vmware argued for this many years ago, and it's been quiet ever since.

"Android would have no chance of achieving similar success because of the fragmented hardware base, myriads of OS versions available and the openness to malware it provides"

 

An unlikely but possible solution:

 

The openness of the other OS’es on the marked will prevent a unified device from surfacing until our personal wearable compute device becomes powerful enough to run virtual machines with the personal and the company OS image side by side sharing the phone/data access of the device. A possible scenario could be formation of a tech company consortium where a shared closed hypervisor platform is released that allows all the different phone makers to create hardware and phone images for the closed hypervisor platform. The user selects the personal image, the company selects the corporate image.

We need virtual machines and not containers because key loggers and other malware cannot be allowed to run on an underlying OS in a container solution. 

When our compute device reaches this level of maturity, Android and Windows all of a sudden has the opportunity to co-exist on a unified device - fx: android for personal use and windows for company use. The key element here is the company image can be locked down and controlled pr. Company policy.

If this becomes the future it’s up to apple to decide if they want to join the party and release hardware and images for the hypervisor or continue at their own game.

 

Maybe microsoft is not lost after all ...

"So what’s the alternative? To be honest, probably a fragmented end user computing space, like we have now for the foreseeable future"

 

Are there any other possible futures?

 

Yes, dusins, but the above ones are very much within grasp with the current known technologies, and humanity has a tendency to build upon earlier success and refine rather than completely reinvent. So I’m guessing we’ll see something in the way of the above described scenarios in the near term future - maybe with a heavy dose of cloud offload or even computing if the network connectivity becomes good enough.