Software above the level of a single device

Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come.” (David Stutz, 2003).

Although the quote above appeared in 2003, the principle it articulates remains true today. It recognises that the computing world is experiencing a shift from desktop-bound client software to net-based applications that are accessible on a range of devices from the desktop to the mobile phone as well as a host of other devices. An example of this is an application called PocketSmith – an online budgeting calendar – as it exhibits some of the best practice principles put into action.

The World Wide Web Consortium states that “For some web content or application to be device independent, it should be possible for a user to obtain a functional user experience associated with its web page identifier via any access mechanism” (W3C, 2003) and PocketSmith implements this by maintaining its users’ accounts and data in such a way that they are accessible from both desktop and mobile devices. By not binding the users to a particular device, PocketSmith expands what it has to offer and appeals to a range of user types. Not all users would have a mobile device or a desktop and therefore would not be able to make use of all those access options but for those who do, the functionality is there and waiting.

If you ask me what computer I use, it’s the closest one. If you ask me where my data is stored, its in the web.” (Digital Equipment Corporation, 1997) This quote is apparently another old one, but it neatly captures the ideal of location independence. What’s more, with mobile devices being so advanced these days, the closest computer is often right in your pocket, so by offering mobile access, PocketSmith has made itself location-independent. As long as users have a compatible mobile device, they can access their data from anywhere their devices receive network coverage. Indeed, PocketSmith in particular makes use of the immediacy of mobile internet use – users can check their budget from any place at any time (for example while out shopping, a user could check to see if their potential purchase would fit within their budget). In this way, PocketSmith cleverly leverages the pervasiveness of mobile computing and internet – people seem to always have their internet-enabled devices with them and are therefore constantly online.

Another best practice that PocketSmith adopts is modifying the experience to suit the device – instead of presenting the same graphics on a mobile phone that a user would see on their desktop, the iPhone version of the application is much cleaner and simpler and only the core content is displayed.

Other best practices (such as harnessing the collective intelligence) haven’t been implemented because they involve online communities and the PocketSmith application deals with its users individually. In fact, trying to create community around its users would likely backfire since the application is centred around users’ financial data, which users almost certainly don’t want publicly available. Perhaps there would be room to use that data in aggregate, non-identifying form (say, to show the community the budgeting areas that large groups of people are struggling or succeeding with or room for a forum where users can trade advice and encouragement) but currently, the application is for individual or family use.

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