Are Field Service and Mobile Retail Apps Going Back in Time?

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Posted Jun 16, 2015 7:30:00 AM by Greg Henry & filed under mobile and wireless technologies

In the world of computer technology, it seems that ideas are continually recycled and reintroduced with a new twist. As mobile application designers, it is our job to follow these trends and determine how to leverage them to the advantage of businesses. With the popularity of texting, Twitter, and other short burst communication products being used today, it makes sense to wonder if the next generation of field service and mobile retail applications will be void of the icons and graphics commonly seen today, replaced with small text based devices that enable quick, short information exchanges. 

Looking Back

The first network computer interface used a “telnet” user interface often referred to as “the green screen.” In this computing model, the processing power was located in a single machine and multiple users could access this power via a computer interface terminal.  This computing paradigm was replaced with the invention of the PC, which led to a single-user computing model, in which each user had direct access to an individual, personal processor.  While this new computing model changed the user-to-processor model, it maintained the same text-based user interface, or “green screen,” only now it was referred to as the DOS command language.  Mobile retail applications were still a long way away.

field service, route accounting and mobile retail applications

Looking Forward

Then, along came Apple, with a new graphical user interface to replace the text-based interface with an easier to read and use icon-based interface. However, the processor-to-user ratio remained one-to-one.  Over time, as processor technology increased in performance, the industry returned to the days of multiple users sharing a common computing platform and saw a rise of client-server applications becoming prevalent.  This was followed by continually increasing computing and networking performance, which led to the rise of web browsing, arguably a graphical implementation of the old green screen technology. 

Now, today’s cloud computing model is very similar to that of the original mainframe and green screen model, making it inevitable to wonder if field service and mobile retail application use will regress to be more like that model.

While mobile computing does not have as an extensive past as desktop computing, it has shared similar transitions, such as:

  • The first generation devices utilized text-based interfaces then followed by graphical interfaces
  • Mobile retail application trends have also transcended from “telnet” interfaces to client-server, from web browsers to now hybrid applications that invoke both web and client-server capabilities
  • Devices have changed from small screens and physical keyboards, to large displays and icons, to even larger displays and graphical keyboards.

Now, in the consumer mobile device market, we are seeing a shift to smaller complimentary devices, such as smart watches, that leverage the processing power of the smart phone to drive small remote displays and input devices. It sounds a lot like the cloud computing model, but for personal use.

Maybe the next generation of field service, route accounting and mobile retail applications will be void of the icons and graphics and be replaced with small text based devices that enable quick, short information exchanges. Will we return to the age of the green screen?  Only time will tell.

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