Mobility is not only your smartphone or your tablet. It goes a lot further than that. Think about your laptop. Does that not offer you a higher degree of mobility? Think about your car. For sure, it offers mobility, but you can’t use your car for work, can you? What I would like to do in this episode of #AndroidForEnterprise, is look at devices which have, or can have Android as a mobile OS and how this could benefit you personally or as an organization. Some of it already exists, others are in the pipeline and some are pure imagination from my side.
Some time ago, I wrote a blog on Social Traffic. In there I explain how car manufacturers are beginning to use Android for their on-board devices. This can be used for consumer purposes (navigation, traffic information, road services). Let’s take the idea a step further and see how a car can become interesting for the enterprise.
You could start for example to have your calendar in your car. You step in the car and it shows you that in half an hour, you’re expected in a meeting. Automatically, navigation starts to bring you to the location. Alas, the system detects a lot of traffic and calculates that you will not make it in time. So it offers you to call the meeting organizer so you can inform him. Your car connects to your phone and initiates the call, all handsfree.
One morning, you’re driving to work and your car notices that you are low on fuel. It automatically alerts you and offers to navigate you to the nearest petrol station of your choice. This could offer a nice option for advertisements. If you’re a petrol station, you may want to show an ad to the driver, letting him know that 5km’s further, petrol is cheaper than the competitor who is just around the corner. Imagine that it’s an electrical vehicle, the car can then skip all petrol stations and show an ad from your local electricity resellers to navigate you to a charging point. A whole new market for advertising opens up. not only for petrol or electricity, but also for motels, road restaurants, shops, entertainment, taxi’s, road assistance…
If your company is none of those, they can still benefit. How many employees with a corporate car abuse the system of fuel cards to gas up their private vehicle. Imagine now that the company car itself knows when it’s refueling, how much it’s taking in, what it’s kilometers are and what the consumption and driving behavior of the conductor is. The onboard system can detect fraud and alert the leasing company. Using some other sensors, the car can also detect maintenance requirements and ask to schedule an appointment for repairs or maintenance asap. This can reduce costs of breakdowns.
Your entire fleet management could be greatly simplified and reduced to a central application which connects to each company car by remote.
[update] Just as I released this blog, an article appeared about my home town (Mechelen, Belgium).
The article is in Dutch, but the basic idea is to introduce smart parking. A system which knows all the parking spaces in the surroundings and its occupation (by use of a sensor) and automatically guides you to the nearest free parking space. it’s not Android Specific, but it shows you the potential of mobility outside of the common.[/update]
There aren’t actually real cash register out there that have Android embedded, yet. However, all the components are already generally available. The Android market has multiple solutions for cash register apps available. There’s also credit card readers for Android. (Mind you, they are also available for most other popular mobile Operating systems. I may be cheering for Android and Google now, but Microsoft and Apple offer high potential as well.)
Seeing how all the building blocks are available and Android being open source, it’s only a matter of time before a cash register manufacturer decides to put Android on his machines.
Next to that, Google is working together with Verizon to provide mobile payments via Near Field Communication. It doesn’t take a genius to see the possibilities. Pretty soon, you will no longer need a credit card and loyalty card. You’ll simply swipe your phone across the payment terminal, accept the payment by entering a code on your phone, and you’re done.
Google has a vision in which their Android system runs on multiple devices at your home, or in the office. The idea is that appliances like dishwashers, refrigerators, TV’s, dryers, central heating, etc have Android on board. Your Android enabled phone would then become a remote control for your entire house/office.
Some examples in the DailyTech Article mention reminders sent by your fridge, when your phone detects that you’re in a supermarket. “Don’t forget the milk, I’m out.” But you would also be able to turn off the lights, change the TV channel, turn on the dryer and washing machine… That magnificent idea from a couple of years back -that your cooking plate would be able to show you a recipe, based on what is present in the fridge and guide you through the cooking process step by step- suddenly becomes reality.
All these ideas still focus very much on your home, but there is nothing stopping you from using them in offices as well. Using sensors and Android appliances, you can create a complete facility management module which turns off the airco and lights during the night. The module could be capable of locking the doors after a certain hour, switching on the alarm, allowing remote control of the security camera’s, roll up the blinds in strong winds, start the dishwasher after office hours etc… All of this, from a central location which can be managed from distance.
You probably already heard of the Microsoft Surface. It’s a super sized tablet pre-iPad era, on which multiple people at once can work. Obviously, the surface runs on windows, but with a nice layer on top to make it more finger happy and user friendly. I have always seen a lot of possibilities in the use of the surface. Whether it’s on the wall, or standing in the middle of the office as a table, you could use it during meetings to pull up a dashboard with sales figures. Everyone (obviously 20 people may be too much) can gather around and interact with the figures, drilling down, requesting extra info, opening documents and slides etc… It’s the ultimate collaboration tool.
Not even a year ago, I was thinking about the concept of mobility for employees that, at first sight, are not supposed to be mobile at all. I had this crazy idea of a tablet based call center. Agents would no longer sit at a desk, working on a laptop or desktop PC in combination with an IP phone. Instead, they could sit anywhere in a lounge-like area with just their tablet and a headset. Skype can act like the IP phone and the tablet connects to the wireless network in the area. When they have a particularly difficult question from a client, they could go to the center of the room where they gather around a Surface together with a supervisor. They could simply swipe the details of the call to the surface, call up all necessary information on the bigger screen and work together on the case. Afterwards, the manager can continue to monitor performance on the surface and display the numbers on a wall.
Sounds neat, doesn’t it? (Perhaps I should write an article about that idea as well…)
I thought about this in the era, before I got so hooked on Google technology, so I didn’t stop at the thought of having a Microsoft solution interacting with a Google or Apple solution. Knowing now how open and widely spread the Android system is, how long will it still take until someone comes up with an Android surface?
Android on laptops?
This is a tricky point. There are multiple initiatives to run Android on laptops or desktops and multiple vendors actually already offer such devices. Just google around a bit and you’ll find tons of articles, links and products. The question is: “Do we actually want Android on our laptop?”
Probably not. Android was designed for smartphones and adjusted for touchscreens. Although it may run perfectly on your laptop, there may be a lack of functionality. Authoring may become a problem. What about all the specific Windows applications for your business? What about SAP? What about your development tools?
You could state that Android runs on a Linux kernel and, as such, can support OpenOffice, Eclipse, Java and a whole range of other software, but let’s face it: “Next year will not be the year of the Linux desktop“. Android will probably not change this.
A second reason against this idea is Chromium OS. This is Google’s web based OS for Netbooks and laptops. It’s basically a browser as an OS. Google’s idea behind it is that nothing is stored locally anymore. All your documents and files are stored in the Cloud. Applications run on remote servers as web apps. Your Netbook basically becomes a thin-client for the web. This works perfectly for the average business computer user, but just like Android lacks development tools and support for business specific software like SAP.
Android would get lost in the middle. It’s not a full fledged desktop OS like Windows. It’s lacking certain key aspects like “business applications”. On the other hand, it’s a lot more bulkier than Chrome OS, which is perfect for the “non-core-IT-employee”.
On the bright side, no matter how you turn it: “Chrome OS, Android on Laptop, Mac or Windows” it’s still childsplay to integrate the entire Google suite in your laptop/desktop and synchronize to your phone or other Android devices. (More on that in a later blog)
Wearable devices [update 4/Jan/2012]
Both Apple and Google are reportedly designing wearable devices. Devices you carry on your body or in your clothes, running on either mobile OS and integrating with the smartphone, or standalone. In the case of Google, it would be a virtual reality glasses based on Android. There’s a lot of potential in there. Augmented reality for starters. What you see in the real world, can instantly be extended with extra information. What you see, is also directly transmitted to your phone, so you can process input information; scan barcodes, face recognition, navigation, product comparisons…
If the wearable devices from Google run on Android, it’s pretty easy to integrate them seamlessly with mobile apps and even reduce the need of a smartphone in many situations. Someone working in a warehouse can get round with just his visor and have his hands free to do the work he’s supposed to do.
Android is creeping into our daily lives and is well underway to boost the so-called “Internet of Things”. We will see it popping up in our kitchen, in the office, in our car and in so many other places. Leveraging the possibilities will lead to an integration far beyond our imagination. Personally it could help us in pressing energy costs, saving us time, increasing our performance and much more. Enterprises could use the integrated technologies for marketing, management of assets, fraud detection, performance increases and so much more.
That the “Internet of Things” is the next big wave in IT is something most big companies agree about. That Android could be paving the way towards it is an opportunity which we can embrace.
This article is a part in the #AndroidForEnterprise 1: Management Overview series