Photo by Kevin Schoenmakers

Desktops are the old way of getting work done. While they are still the primary method for most office workers, telecommuters, and even field teams, that is changing. Enterprise software vendors that have built / are building / are thinking about building applications or programs for desktops will not lead the workplace into the next generation of work. It will be mobile-first companies.

1. If you are not mobile-first then you are desktop-first

You cannot be both, no matter how many times you state it in your all-hands meetings. One platform is important to you, and if push came to shove you know which one you would choose. Shipments of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) have finally outpaced shipments of desktop computers, and the gap is only going to widen. Thus, mobile will become the most-used and most important devices in and out of the office. Employees need the ability to be mobile, and tying them to a desk to get work done is the same feeling as the ball-and-chain, where resentment toward the ball grows with each passing day.

2. If you are desktop-first then your mobile versions are constrained

By building for desktop PCs, you are optimizing for the PC and PC alone. Power, screen size, multiple windows viewable at the same time, always-strong connection, etc., these are features that do not apply to mobile devices. Therefore, when designing and building your ‘mobile extensions’ you are forced to make sacrifices in order to simply get the software to function at all. Then, when it is functioning, it is limited by your desktop philosophies and previous business goals. Your software is optimized for the PC, so how can it also be optimized for mobile devices? TL;DR: It cannot.

3. If your mobile software is constrained by your desktop software, then it cannot fully take advantage of the devices’ capabilities

Always-on, location, and ease-of-use are all strong qualities of software built for mobile devices. They are not for desktop work software. In order to fully take advantage of mobile devices’ capabilities, one must be free from desktop restrictions. Your Innovator’s Dilemma is forcing you to make every decision on the mobile software with regard to how it affects your current customers and the desktop software they have purchased. In some cases, you will limit what functionality the mobile device can have due to how the feature works on the desktop, and in others the technology itself will limit you. There is nothing you can do, you cannot innovate on the mobile side, and will stubbornly hold onto the mast of your desktop software’s sinking ship.

4. If you cannot fully take advantage of mobile devices’ capabilities, someone will

While you are busy paring down your desktop software to operate on mobile devices, others are looking at how to extract every last bit of functionality of the iOS, Android, WebOS, and/or Windows Phone platforms. Every native control, every intuitive interaction, every screen size, all whilst being wary of battery life, memory drain, and network connection. That goes against everything that you’ve built for the desktop, so how can you be expected to have multiple, very differing, philosophies for the same company?

The mobile-first mindset

Mobile-first is a company mindset. Design, development, marketing, sales, everything considers mobile-first. It allows for a different, and better, perspective on the same task for mobile. Simply ‘extending’ for mobile does not cut it, users will go away or dread using it. Mobile-first also treats the user differently. Desktop-first trains employees to use and think about the software only in the workplace. Mobile software, on the other hand, is fun, well-designed, and always around. Providing great experiences on mobile devices, which people use for work anyway, encourages a different, more positive, expectation for work software. People pull out their phone whenever they have a >30-second pause in anything, and open a select 2-3 apps to check updates, news, social, etc. What if their job’s mobile app became a part of that routine, giving more insight into the goings on, their team, and milestones, with a pleasurable experience and real value? That would be pretty important to everyone in the company.

Resulting logic: If you are not mobile-first, someone will be

These mobile-first companies will innovate while taking market leadership on mobile devices, which are becoming the most prominent devices used in the workplace. That leaves non-mobile-first companies with their share of an ever-shrinking pie. It may be that you are looking to jump ship to mobile-first, but in order to do so you will be forced to alienate and lose existing customers, perhaps many. It is the right decision for some, perhaps not for others. Those who embrace the mobile-first business and mindset will lead enterprise software forward.