Ode to the Desktop

I feel a lil bad for Desktop. As soon as it’s younger brother, Mobile, came on the scene everyone has been fawning over how quickly it has grown and how many friends it has. I can see why, but there are many things to like about the older brother too.

I ran an experiment where I worked and lived for a week without using my laptop at all. At first I was impressed at the fact that I could do my job this way, and the level of access and capability, but by the end of the week I felt different. I learned that:

I got very tired of using mobile input

Keyboard have gotten better, but it is still far from the same experience as typing on a large computer keyboard. On my laptop the words keep up with my thoughts and I don’t even have to think about it. On my keyboard this is far from the case and I spend more time in corrections mode.

This has an obvious effect on the content. Everything is shortened. It can work somewhat fine in chat, and writing a to-the-point email can be a feature, but I would sometimes take a short cut and not put down everything that I needed too.

And then it comes to writing something like this post. Long form. It compounds. It isn’t just getting content down, but also manipulating it. Moving around ideas has so much more friction that you sometimes give in and just don’t do it. You stop improving.

I got tired of the small screen

The smaller screen wasn’t as big of an issue for me as the input challenges, but it did cause problems. As I laid out ideas I was able to make the space to do so. I felt constrained, and a little akin to my early augmented reality experiences where the field of view was such that you have to move your head around in a fog of war.

One interesting side effect was that I cheated at times, and moved to pen and paper for some of my organization of thought activities.

I consumed more and created less

This was really troubling. I found that my ratio of creation vs. consumption time changed. The extra friction on the creative side changed the types of behaviors. I would find that I would sometimes play tricks on myself: “Instead of coding on that, I will watch the tech video!”

I have noticed this in general with mobile and technology and it concerns me. When I look at “screen time” with my kids I try hard to understand that all screen time isn’t equal. It is very different watching my son create a world vs. watching someone talk about their world on YouTube.

This will cause me to plug my phone in more, and actually spend more time on my laptop. I know that I should have a “no tech in the bedroom” policy, but I find that hard, so I tried “only the laptop in the bedroom” and found that I got more productive work done, and when done I could then get to sleep!

When all was said and done, I found myself irritable at the entire experience.

Rebalancing the force

As an industry we have undervalued the desktop. It is easy to see why we would do this though. When something new comes along, and something as revolutionary as mobile, you see a rush.

Picture sands of engagement falling down, and a machine splits it up so a percentage goes left to desktop and right to mobile. At the very beginning mobile was a small percentage but it ramped up quickly. As you watch this you have to wonder: where will this end? Will desktop be totally eclipsed and be driven to ~0? What is the point of equilibrium?

We rushed to build mobile experiences so we could capture the engagement, rightfully so. At this point I think we are at an interesting point in time where we can see where things are potentially settling. Now that we have cross device experiences in the market we can compare our usage and make smarter guesses on where we are going from here (and thus where the investment is).

When you ramp up from zero it is easy to think that the younger will run away with things, that TV will totally eclipse radio. Sometimes we are truly onto something new and that happens (ham radio, headphone jacks ;)) but it isn’t always the case.

It seems somewhat obvious that we will get to a world where the various input and output modes will be separable. Right now we tend to group “laptop” with: larger screen, keyboard, mouse-y thing, and we group “mobile” with: touch and really the more fluffy capability that is “always close to human”. Capabilities such as voice and location appear on both. and touch even appears on laptop screens.

Library Computer Access/Retrieval System (LCARS), the OS for the Enterprise

It seems obvious because we have seen it in sci-fi such as Star Trek, and we are to a point where it has shown up in our lives at various stages of completeness.

Progressive on the desktop

So, while I look forward to a future where technology doesn’t get in the way, and creativity can blossom even more, I also remember the role of the desktop. Imagine a world where we take a mobile device and give it a larger screen and extra input methods? That seems like something quite useful, especially for actually getting stuff done.

If your business revolves around bite size consumption that is one thing, but if needs more, and if you want users to engage in complex ways, here’s to pushing the boundaries on great desktop experiences.

We often focus on mobile when we think about Progressive Web Apps. A lot of the core technology was required to bring the Web up to snuff in the constrained world of mobile. The foundational tech has been created in a way that it also offers much value on the desktop. I see a lot of people pushing their experiences with service workers and friends, and I think there is much room to have the desktop browsers do more to surface PWA functionality (e.g. “add to home screen”).

I also applaud Microsoft for the work they are doing on the desktop, including the support for PWAs in their desktop store.

It’s Friday, so tonight I will raise a drink to the Desktop’s out there.