Will Microsoft's Surface Transform Enterprise Mobility?

Editor's note: The following information was authored by Brad Shafton, Director of User Experience for Hologic, and takes a look at the role of Microsoft's Surface tablet in the enterprise and how it stacks up with competing products.

As the media pontificates over the demise of Apple, whether Microsoft has surpassed Apple in regard to hardware, and if/when the Surface is the must have device of 2015… 2016… 2017, I ask this; does it really matter to your organization? And, more importantly, what is the experience for your users regardless of the shiny rectangle they work from?

The focus of our efforts should be on ensuring that employees and customers can easily and securely access our systems from whatever device they prefer. So, while the Surface Studio may be “cool” it is not revolutionary. Yes, the Dial is very slick, but will I use it? No, and, assuming you are not in graphic design, neither will you. It’s no more or less of a gimmick as the touch bar on the new MacBook Pro. There is a use for it, but to say that it will change the enterprise is a drastic oversight. Do not let these incremental enhancements distract from where your focus should really be; security and experience.

Don’t Buy the Marketing Hype

Where Microsoft misses the boat is in thinking this is a game of iPad versus Surface. The Apple contingent is strong, and not easily swayed, but more importantly the application eco-system is far from comparable. This is not to say applications are better on one versus the other, but the experience is very different. Digital natives appreciate the ability to download dozens of apps in seconds, compare competitive apps and find the one that is best for them. Microsoft may argue that their app store has comparable depth, but there just is not the same quality within. For most power users, looking in the Windows Store is the after thought to a web search, not the starting point.

Conversely, Apple is beginning to alienate customers who now must carry a whole other bag just for adapters and dongles. Microsoft is smart to continue including USB ports on their devices. This does however pose an interesting conundrum. In field testing I had users tell me they preferred the iPad, because while the Surface had USB ports, it did not have enough for their needs. Apparently if you don’t have four, you might as well have none? But this digs at the deeper issue; one is not a replacement for the other and personal preference goes beyond merely just ports. However, where they can stand to be the same is in the experiences within. Be it an app or website, our rectangle is merely a portal to information. Designing an experience solely around one device or another limits your future and audience.

Microsoft, Apple and others will continue releasing must have features that you nor your user realized you needed. However, you cannot afford to wait for these companies to design the experience for you; you must act first, and act now. Understand what they are trying to accomplish and look beyond the device. So how do you do that?

1)      Don’t Listen, Watch – It goes without saying that you want to do more listening than speaking (I use 25/75 as a rule of thumb), but the real insight will come from observing. You will learn the most about your users by watching the nuances of their daily behaviors. Do not ask them in the moment, as this may interrupt a deeper observation to follow. Take notes and follow up the following day with your questions. Also, ensure your questions are not leading. If you give users an option they will undoubtedly choose one, so allow them the freedom to give a complete description. For example: I noticed that you always email yourself the marketing collateral before you send it to the customer, why is that? It may seem obvious from your observation that this was because they don’t know how to use the app properly, but that user may just like to have a copy of what they’ve sent and your app doesn’t provide a reliable history.

2)     Set the Context - In my experiences, users feel that you’re there to save the world, and they can dump all their complaints and problems on you. This can be quite problematic as it’s not the intention of your observation. This exercise is about longer term changes. As you have wins under your belt and can give examples this will become easier to explain to users. Be clear; you’re there to watch and listen, you’re not looking for anything in particular, but you are looking for everything.

3)      Be Positive! – I’m a techy guy at heart, and this process can often lead to things that make me cringe; “why are they double clicking that hyperlink?! You only need a single click!”. Resist the urge! Not every tip you have up your sleeve is going to excite your users. I can think of at least four ways to copy and paste, and while we all know that highlighting and going to the edit menu is inferior to Ctrl+C, the user is comfortable with the way they are doing it, and may see your tip as talking down to them. They may even show you that copy is in the edit menu as if you didn’t know. “That’s interesting, I never knew that!”, is a great response. This often leads to them showing you more of their hidden tricks, and maybe, just maybe, you will come across one that you really do not know.

At the end of the day, just actively taking a part in your user’s interactions outside the world of a problem, or a new solution, will be beneficial to all parties. I would go on, but I can’t find the right dongle to charge my new MacBook…