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Integrating mobile devices at the desktop for greater productivity

It’s an understatement to say that the way we use computers has experienced a revolution. Over the last decade, we’ve transitioned from an almost exclusive focus on desktop computers to going increasingly mobile.

When this shift first began, most users paired basic cell phones with large, clunky laptops. Today, the laptops have gotten thinner and lighter, but since they don’t solve all of our communication needs, we often pair them with, and increasing rely on, a secondary device — the now ubiquitous smartphone.

Though a standalone device, the smartphone operates more like a subset of our computer, with specific built-in communication capabilities that go beyond what our desktop or laptop alone can give us. You might be just as likely now to use a smartphone for booking travel, taking photos of interesting products or travel receipts, or using maps for navigation, as you are to make a call, type a text, or send a quick email. All of the above can be done without having to pull out your full laptop.

While each piece of our personal technology puzzle has dramatically raised the bar on what has come before, when strung together they still don’t offer a seamless system for computing more efficiently. According to research by Forrester, 74 per cent of employees have two devices they use for work, and 52 per cent of users juggle three devices.

What’s more, when you send files between your mobile device and your computer, you might rely on a smorgasbord of resources, including but not limited to, work or personal email, Dropbox, iCloud, and/or Google Drive. You might additionally turn to a range of accessories to try to be more productive at your desktop, including an external monitor, an external keyboard and mouse, an external tablet keyboard, and/or chargers for your tablet and smartphone, making your work desk much more cluttered than before.

The result can be as chaotic as it sounds. With so many workers switching between a smartphone and/or tablet and/or PC as part of their desk in the office work environment, we often end up with a disjointed scenario involving multiple devices, files, and operating systems. While the mobile experience is enriched and users gain more freedom in how they interact and do business, companies often struggle to provide an integrated computing solution when employees return to their main desk workstations. For example, if someone sends a file to you on your phone, you might have to email the file back to yourself at a different address or on a different system because of compatibility issues and/or the need to just physically access the file from a different system to view it properly.

While it may be true that one day the smartphone will become our go-to device that agilely combines all of our productivity needs, the industry is in a transition phase. Though we’re heading in the direction of people jumping from PC to more exclusive smartphone use, we’re not there yet.

Today, you might see people working with laptops most of the time when they’re at their primary work desk — whether it’s in the office, at home, or on the road. But in circumstances when they don’t have a laptop at their fingertips, they’re more likely to turn to smartphones for quick productivity tasks — or activities that can’t be conveniently achieved with laptops, like GPS or camera features. While this juggling act between a variety of devices may technically help you cover all of the bases, the issue is that the smartphone is being used as a standalone device — not as a way to effectively sync data. When files are involved, it’s still necessary to send them back and forth with the primary product device — which remains the laptop/PC.

This limitation points to the next iteration coming down the pike in the ongoing evolution of computing devices. Clearly, we’re in need of having more agile and more flexible accessories right at our desk. We need to reduce the burden of creating a separate computing environment with more accessories and too many choices, which creates a cluttered landscape for users that is both inefficient and inconvenient. We need an increasingly agile work system that focuses more on our work and less on syncing our devices to make them communicate better with each other. Ideally, we will begin to move toward a standardised process where people in the B2B world can easily adapt and deploy a single ubiquitous solution in their work environment. In such an environment, accessories would not be designed for just one device, but could flex to support two — or even three to four devices — at a time.

Here are a few categories of products on the market or coming soon that are helping to move us in the right direction — toward greater integration and productivity, and less device-syncing and juggling:

Switchable keyboard

Today’s users need to type on a variety of devices, from Windows PCs to tablets and smartphones, running on different operating systems such as Android or iOS. This versatile device allows you to use a single keyboard to enter data into either your desktop/laptop computer or your mobile device (smartphone or tablet) with the same keyboard simply by hitting a toggle key.

The result is that users can easily move back and forth between their various devices without having to pick up their phone or tablet. This is handy because when somebody sends you a text on your phone, you would normally have to stop what you’re doing at the desktop computer, turn and pick up your phone, and reply using your thumbs. With the switchable keyboard, you can continue typing on the keyboard to reply to that text, but the data you peck out now goes directly into your phone via Bluetooth. Intuitively, that just feels more efficient — because it is.

Dual device dock

Wouldn’t it be great to have a device that would not only let your PC or laptop connect to a full-size monitor, keyboard, and mouse but would also allow you to bring your phone into the mix, making for a fuller computing environment?

A dual device dock allows for this type of flexibility, which comes in handy when you have devices that use two different operating systems (for example, an iPhone that operates on iOS and a Windows-based computer).

Standardised USB connector

The newest USB technology — USB 3.1 Type C — will soon be standardised to fit all devices, and is expected to be picked up among the majority of mainstream smartphone, laptop, and tablet computers. This will go a long way toward bridging the gap between devices since, currently, different devices rely on a range of disparate connectors that aren’t all compatible.

For example, iPhone has a Lightning connector, while a computer has the standard USB, and another device might have a micro USB.

Wireless charging

Device users everywhere seek a unified standard in wireless charging. Though that standard has been hard to pin down, steam is picking up for this new technology that can help improve efficiencies for users.

As a sign of its growing popularity, wireless charging is coming very soon to a Starbucks near you: the coffee giant is planning to build this technology, based on electromagnetic induction, into their stores, with plans for a nationwide rollout after first testing the waters in the San Francisco Bay Area.

4K resolution monitors and accessories

With the growing amount of data and information people now have to contend with, users need bigger and better resolution equipment to display content and view their screens in greater detail. 4K is expected to become a common standard in many business computing environments.

With more 4K monitors expected to be used in work space, it’s important that companies also have docking stations that will support 4K, creating a gateway for computers to have better resolution of content viewing that results in greater productivity.

Companies should also consider using docking stations that provide the most flexibility and long-term value: e.g. docks that connect to users’ computers with standard USB instead of proprietary connectors, supporting 4K video output with both DisplayPort and HDMI technologies.

As employees and casual users continue to increase their use of multiple mobile computing devices in the office and on the road to enhance business productivity, the need will continue to increase for seamless integration of mobile devices with the laptop and desktop computer.

The right integration solution of products and accessories is much needed to further enhance users’ productivity with greater efficiency, productivity, and ease of use in a continually evolving multi-device environment.

Louie Yao, Global Product Manager, Kensington