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Mobility: A Brief History

Mobility ... for associations & NPOs, it's not an option anymore

What is mobility? Simply put, it’s the ability to work on the go from any location. And because we all move at such a fast pace today, mobility is no longer optional. Everything seems to fly by faster than ever. And despite it all, we need to get to our stuff when and where we need it. Now! Later won’t cut it anymore.

Lucky for us, the devices at our disposal allow us to be more mobile than ever before. Good thing too, since association people are among the most mobile I’ve ever worked with. And IT mobility especially, is playing an ever-increasing role in their daily lives.

In fact, mobility is so important to association's daily lives that it is one of the main factors we knew we had to address when we built our 501cloud association & NPO IT management plan. And address it we did. Along with accessibility and security, mobility is at the core of 501cloud.

501cloud mobility delivers to crazy-busy organizations the ability to access critical information from anywhere. At any time. From any device.

One device, many roles ... my tablet experience

The concept of mobility has recently been epitomized by the Apple iPad. When I first got my hands on one of these tablets, I realized from the start it was a game-changer. Previous attempts at the tablet form-factor tried to be a hybrid; both a laptop and a tablet. These compromises ended up being not very good as either. I wasn't impressed.

Apple went all-in on the iPad tablet. Breaking from the "clam shell" design of traditional laptops, the iPad jettisoned the laptop's keyboard in favor of a touch screen. The whole thing was so intuitive to use. I was an instant believer.

But soon, my enthusiasm ground to a halt. Apps! There were no Microsoft Office apps. The Apple "wannabe" apps like Pages (word processing) or Numbers (spreadsheets) just didn't cut it. It was just too limiting. So, I was stuck with keeping my laptop for "real" work and the iPad for ... other stuff. As much as I really liked the tablet, it couldn't replace my "work" laptop. Or the desktop I still kept around for tasks the laptop wasn't up to. But man, I loved the tablet form-factor.

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Then I tried the Microsoft Surface Pro. Same awesome tablet form-factor as the iPad, with a bonus in the form of a detachable keyboard that doubled as a screen cover. And (ta-da) MS Office apps! With the Surface I was both mobile and fully operational.

And the Surface Pro had power to spare. It could handle any task I threw at it. The ability to use it as a tablet and then snap on the magnetically attached full keyboard for serious typing gave me the best mobile experience ever. See ya, laptop! When docked with its desktop docking station, I had both a full-sized, wireless keyboard and mouse along with multiple giant monitors. Adios desktop! And now, all of my business apps were now available on a tablet. And the iPad? It's sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

One computer replaced my iPad, my laptop, and my desktop computer. With the combination of the Surface Pro and cloud storage, I was totally mobile. "Work" wasn't a place anymore, it was just a verb. And I could do it where ever and when ever I chose.

And THAT is mobility!

"Judge me by my size, do you?" - Yoda

At The IT Guys, we've so invested in the idea of mobility for our association & NPO clients, that we've extended it even to desktops. Instead of bulky, desktop-hogging systems, 501cloud desktop computers are innovative Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) systems. At only 4.5" x 4.5" and just 2" high, the amazing one-pound, NUC doesn't sacrifice power and features for small size. It packs all the capabilities of traditional desktop systems into an unbelievably compact package.

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So, why a mobile desktop computer? One word; flexibility. The ability to easily slip a desktop computer into a purse or briefcase enables traditionally non-mobile staff to occasionally work from another location, like home or a conference. At the fraction of the cost of a similarly configured laptop, the Intel NUC provides operational flexibility a traditional desktop computer simply can't match.

"What a long, strange trip it's been" - The Grateful Dead

While the Surface Pro and NUC epitomize today's mobile devices, mobility hasn't always been as mobile as it is now. And it hasn't always been a smooth road to mobility nirvana (if we're even there yet). There have been hits and there have been a lot of misses along the way. With the combination of ultra-portable devices and cloud storage, we’re finally entering into a true “mobile age”.

How’d we get here? Like the man said, it’s been a long, strange trip. Follow me.

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1965 - IBM System/360

Why is this behemoth in an article about mobility? Because the System/360 mainframe is the "primordial soup" that spawned the computers and mobile devices we use today. Granted, the S/360 was as immobile as it gets. Only a bunch of strong guys, forklifts, and trucks could move it. But it's the beginning of everything. Plus, it's the first computer I ever worked with. Hey, it was already old at the time and I was just a teenager.

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1975 - IBM 5100

Wait ... A computer one person can move? Yes, indeed. Weighing in at a mere fifty pounds (compared to the System/360's several tons), this was the first portable computer. Five-inch, text-only screen. Data stored on cassette tapes. No apps. This was a truly awesome device. A computer you could carry. And do what with? I have no idea.

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1980 - IBM Personal Computer

If the System/360 is the grandfather of modern computers, the original IBM PC is the father. It established the foundation upon which everything that came after was built. Word processing. Spreadsheets. Games. The Web. With the advent of the PC, apps we all use today were created and became accessible to non-geeks. A market was born and transformed the world. Literally.

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1981 - Osborne 1

Some claim the Osborne is the first laptop computer. A laptop? Really? I don't know about that. At almost twenty-five pounds, I'm pretty sure most laps wouldn't hold up for long with this monster sitting on them. Plus, who has a lap that big? But, "laptop" or not, for the first time, a real, usable computer was mobile. Not easily so, but still mobile.

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1981 - Epson HX-20

Interestingly enough, a company mostly known for its printers came up with the first light-weight portable computer; the HX-20. Granted, it was limited with respect to what you could do with it when you got where you were going. With a screen only twenty LCD characters wide and four lines tall, even basic word processing was a challenge. But the Epson HX-20 kick-started the light, portable computer market.

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1982 - GRiD Compass

GRiD who? Compass what? Yes, it's likely you've never heard of either. It's not your fault. Both the company and its computer entered and exited the market so quickly that had you blinked, you'd have missed them. But, if nothing else, the Compass is important for one thing; it introduced the "clam shell" form-factor we all know today, where the screen folds over the keyboard. That alone secures its place on this list. That and the Compass also made a cameo appearance in James Cameron's Aliens ... one of my favorite movies of all time. So that's cool.


1982 - Compaq Portable

This was a really big deal for a couple of reasons. First, it was portable. Although, at twenty-eight pounds, most of us who had to drag one of these around politely called it "luggable". Second, and more importantly, the Compaq Portable was the first "IBM compatible" computer. That meant that apps designed to run on the IBM PC would now work on a non-IBM (and much cheaper) system. This ability totally changed the market, spawning a host of new companies and products. Compaq was eventually gobbled up by HP, but its legacy lives on today.

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1985 - Toshiba T1110

With the short-lived T1110, Toshiba combined the GRiD Compass "clam shell" form-factor with the Compaq Portable's IBM compatibility to produce the first "modern" laptop. There's no hard drive, and the screen is limited to text and limited graphics, but the general configuration is with us still. When the T1110 was first released, I really wanted one. A lot.

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1991 - Apple PowerBook

The PowerBook wasn't Apple's first entry in the laptop market. That distinction belongs to 1989's Macintosh Portable. What qualifies the PowerBook for an entry in this history is its configuration. It was the first laptop to include many of the features we expect in a laptop today; palm rests below the keyboard, a pointing device (and the graphical interface to go with it), mouse buttons, external ports, among others. More than anything, the PowerBook defined what a "modern" laptop looks like.

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1995 - 2007 - More of the same

This period isn't remarkable all that much for innovation. Instead the laptop became more refined and more powerful. Also, laptops gained most of the features we now take for granted. It was during this time that users began abandoning their stationary desktop systems in favor of the more powerful, mobile laptops that were entering the market seemingly every day. Fewer paradigm shifts. More attitude shifts.


2007 - Apple iPhone

Steve Jobs had a knack; he'd tell us what we wanted and then he'd sell it to us. The poster child for this genius was the iPhone. The iPhone was Apple's first game-changer in the mobility world; a device that fit in your hand and could do just about anything your laptop could do. This amazing device fundamentally changed what we expected from mobile technology and the market exploded in a million directions.

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2008 - Apple MacBook Air

There's an old saying, "You can never be too rich or too thin." While we can debate the merits of that statement, there's no debate that the richest company built the thinnest computer. With the MacBook Air, Apple pioneered the ultra-thin, ultra-light laptop form-factor. The result was a supremely mobile device that looked as good as it performed. Another old saying; "Sex sells". And the MacBook Air was sexy. To us geeks, anyway.


2010 - Apple iPad

Mobility Game Changer #2 for Apple. Building on the success of its iPhone and MacBook mobile devices, Apple doubled-down and delivered the ultimate mobile device. Once again Apple redefined what we think a mobile device should look like and how we should interact with it. In true Apple fashion, the iPad boldly jettisoned the laptop keyboard and adopted a touch screen as its input. The results were amazing. The first time I held an iPad, I told everyone who would listen, "This is the future."

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2018 - Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Microsoft entered the tablet market in 2012. Well, stumbled into the market might be a more apt term. The first Surface left much to be desired. But, Microsoft stuck with it, and with each new version, the Surface has gotten better. The Surface Pro 6 "nails it" in all respects. Joining main-stream Office apps with the portability of the iPad, the Surface Pro is the tablet that can function as the only business computer anyone needs. It's the current state-of-the-art in business mobile computing.

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2019 - The future

So, what does the future of mobility look like? Some predict that "wearable" devices are the next big thing. Based on what I've seen, I'm not so sure. I think wearables are going to stick around, but I don't see them in the mainstream for some time to come. And even then, they will have to evolve beyond the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and other niche devices to become more universally adopted. Instead, I think we'll see a consolidation and refinement of the tablet form-factor, much like we did with laptops. They will get faster and add more features, but won't change dramatically.

And so we'll coast along for a while. Improvements here and there. Until one day, someone looks at the status quo in a new way and wonders, "What if ... ?"