Episode 11: Dan Bricklin's Tablet Vision
00:00 Adam: Intro to episode 11.
00:29 Dan: The use case is using mobile devices as a clipboard replacement.
01:07 Dan: A tablet size seems appropriate.
02:53 Adam: Can you explain why users will replace their physical clipboard with this tool?
03:27 Dan: The users are walking around and standing up and have been using paper for data collection.
05:25 Adam: Let's take the specific case of a hospital emergency room.
06:43 Dan: Were building a system for developers to build applications for a hospital that replaces a paper chart.
09:06 Dan: There are so many things you can do if you're putting the data into a computerized system.
09:40 Adam: Do you think there could be resistance to moving from paper in some instances?
10:20 Dan: A few days ago there was a major fire in New York City that wiped out a major amount of medical paper records.
10:47 Dan: I think a lot of it is a usability issue. The useability is bad on a traditional computer.
13:28 Dan: There will be a lot of evolution for useability by people who are walking around while collecting data.
15:11 Dan: As the hardware gives us capabilities, we need to apply that for people who are not taking advantage of computerization.
15:38 Adam: One problem may be that you are ahead of the curve when it comes to the price of the device.
16:29 Dan: The tablets have already gotten down to about $70. There are multiple uses of a tablet, including media consumption and laptop replacement.
21:41 Dan: When we're talking about clipboard replacement, you may not want to use a full iPad.
23:27 Adam: Another way of thinking about clipboards is a container or chunk of information. In a hospital a clipboard represents a single patient. Do you envision separate tablets for each patient in a hospital?
25:10 Dan: Yes. It may be easier and less error prone to have separate devices. Useability is life or death.
30:15 Adam: A tablet can also be a retrieval device. That is different than a paper clipboard. Do you think people may still prefer retrieving information on a computer?
31:23 Dan: I think questions like that will only be answered by people trying it. It may be situational. That's why I like to talk about clipboard replacements, because it gives you one context.
34:55 Adam: Let's focus on the hard hat context, such as a construction site. That influences how the information is captured from the device, and the idea of synchronizing the tablet with a remote server.
36:29 Dan: In the ideal situation the device is connected all the time, but that isn't always possible. It can also be very expensive to give each device a data plan.
38:40 Adam: What about the conception of the device as just the way to run the app, such as a one time use?
39:40 Adam: Do people think of the thing they are working with as a device or just a form?
40:48 Dan: The line between the device and the app is very fluid, such as email being in the cloud and therefore on many devices.
42:15 Dan: The device, the app, and the data are all connected in a way.
43:00 Adam: Another challenge is the time it takes for people to develop the right mental model to use a tool like this.
44:33 Dan: With clipboard replacement there is the analogy of the original paper form. We may present data in the same way as the paper form.
47:20 Dan: A decision was made to include solitaire with Windows as a way of teaching people to use a mouse. I think the same thing will happen with clipboard replacement.
50:58 Adam: The Mac and Windows were created by large companies with huge resources. Alpha is a development company but it doesn't have those resources.
52:53 Dan: In the case of the clipboard replacements, people are aleady doing this type of thing, but it is too expensive. People already know what they want to do with tablets. We want to change the level of experience people need to build these apps.
56:59 Adam: With Alpha you are building on a large amount of existing technology, such as connecting to corporate data. Large organizations are not just replacing the clipboard, they're extending their existing data.
57:39 Dan: You've always been able to build applications like this with Alpha Anywhere. Now we're looking at where it is cumbersome for this particular use.
00:00 Adam: Welcome to Episode 11 of "Adventures in Alpha Land." I'm Adam Green, and I'll be your host for this episode. Today, we'll be talking to Dan Bricklin about a new set of technology he's developing for Alpha Anywhere.
00:16 We're going to take this early opportunity to let him introduce his basic conception of how people can use this new tool. Dan, let's start with the use case you imagine and the type of device it would work on.
00:29 Dan: The use case is using mobile devices, especially tablets, for use as clipboard replacements -- for replacing what you would have been doing with a paper on a clipboard -- for example, an inspector or somebody in a factory or a warehouse.
00:49 The applications we're talking about lend themselves to a work area, something carriable, but something with enough space to be able to make various types of inputs and all.
01:08 A smartphone may be too small for that, a tablet size, which is like a clipboard size, seems to be appropriate, any bigger may be too heavy and too cumbersome. That size and the type of applications we're talking about with what would be an appropriate screen size speaks to tablets.
01:30 The applications that you build are probably going to be tuned to knowing the size. If you know that you're building an application that will run on a really small screen, you build it differently than if you know it's going to run on a bigger screen.
01:46 If you're going to need to run on both, you either compromise one or both, or you make it so that it can run on both and adjust itself appropriately, a responsive design. In this case, we're saying that you may actually know enough about the particular users, because they all work for your company, to be able to say, "We will specify that the best situation here is to use a tablet."
02:14 I think too much people have been looking at smartphone- centric. That's where a lot of the money is, that's what everybody has, that's what consumers are into, but in this case, I think that saying, "Let us do as good a job as possible with a tablet" will open up capabilities that we would have had to compromise, if we said that we're also going to be really good on a smartphone.
02:40 I want to make sure that we can take advantage of the tablet, when you know that you have it. I think that's just been forgotten by so many people who were just...when they hear mobile, they think smartphone.
02:56 Adam: When you have been talking about this thing, you have generally referred to it as a clipboard replacement. If you can just describe what kind of audience is using a clipboard now, and how what you want to build will give them greater productivity, why and how they will replace their physical clipboard with this thing you want to build?
03:28 Dan: I think the people we're talking about are people for whom a desktop or a laptop computer would be inappropriate. They're people who are probably walking around. They're not in a fixed location or spending a lot of time in the same location, and that are standing up, the computerization has been really tough for many applications there, where paper has been quite good.
03:55 It doesn't have to be a clipboard, but traditionally, you have something which you can write on with paper, and the paper has some things you could call "forms." It's used for data collection. It's used for looking at data and information, and using that while doing something else.
04:17 It may be a pick list in a warehouse, but then you have to say that you've actually taken that and check it off, et cetera. Those are the types of applications I'm talking about that have not been computerized. You would use a piece of paper and then you go back to your car, your desk, and you type it in or send it to somebody who types it in to a database system.
04:41 This allows you to be able to get the advantages of capturing it in computerized form right away, and be able to take advantage of what a computer can do during the capturing and after the capturing, actually before the capturing in terms of pre- filling in certain things because it can be customized in advance or on the spot. Does that answer it or did I miss something?
05:09 Adam: No. That's a general explanation. Let me try to come up with a concrete use case where I think this paper versus computer dichotomy exists. Working in a hospital, let's take the specific case of an ER. In high school, I worked in an ER for a number of years as a volunteer. In my recent visits to ERs, things still haven't changed. There are computers, in many cases, when you check in at the counter.
05:46 They obviously use a computer to register you. Even in the examining room they'll often have a computer -- usually on a cart, I guess because they're standing up or they don't want the computer stolen...
06:00 Dan: Or cantilevered off something coming out of the wall.
06:04 Adam: Right. But at the same time they still rely on this metal holder with a spring that holds a whole bunch of pieces of paper. That's the chart, generally, in medical vernacular. But that is in effect a clipboard. It's interesting that in that case they still have this paper solution for some things and the computer solution for others. You feel that what you're building will replace that paper set of charts, that metal holder with multiple forms.
06:44 Dan: What we're building is a system for developers to build applications that can be used that way. But for example, let's say that you go into the ER or you're going to get an operation and yes, there are all these pieces of paper, even at the top hospitals in the country.
07:08 You would expect that the doctor who's asking you questions, or the nurse, or you yourself filling it out -- I had a physical, my yearly physical this morning and sure enough, I was handed a clipboard to say, "Am I still taking these medicines?" which was then only looked at by the one doctor or the doctors involved.
07:31 You would expect somebody to ask questions and suddenly on a big screen over on the wall you would expect all the answers to be there so they don't have to keep asking you the same questions over and over again. They just glance up and see it.
07:44 You would expect to be able to have it customized -- that if you didn't answer something, of if you've answered it before, it could just say, "Is it still true that x..." So much time can be saved. Sometimes what you input is only looked at by one person. Sometimes it needs to be electronically coalesced and processed, but other times it's just being sent off or being saved for auditing purposes.
08:17 Those are the type of applications I'm thinking of, and of course, what's nice is that with the computer, what's good for inputting the format that has good information design and usability design and robustness against error in input design can be paired with good presentation after you've inputted it for reading by somebody who needs to use that information.
08:48 You would expect certain things to be perhaps given in a graph form or in a numeric form and come out in the opposite. You may expect that you might have a number that goes in and then something color-coded coming out about whether it's in range or not. There are just so many things you can do if you're taking the data and putting it into a computerized system with the data flow that you have in computerized systems.
09:17 With paper we had this wait to get the stuff and the paper either only stays in paper or has to be entered by somebody at a later time that can then be provided at some later point in some other form, rather than have even the device that you're entering it in can morph that data into something more understandable.
09:42 Adam: Just to think in terms of some of the places where pushback may come, just, again, working with the general conception, one of the reasons why I think hospitals still use the metal clipboard with paper forms is the sense of permanence, the sense of record- keeping. There's still this strange concept that paper records are more real. Do you think that there may be some resistance in some areas to move that to the computer?
10:11 Dan: No. I don't think that's...there's something with that, except I think...it's funny you should mention it today. A few days ago there was a major fire in New York City that wiped out enormous amounts of I think it was medical records.
10:27 But they said, "Not to worry -- most of them are new and there's computerized backups that are stored all over the place," because New York City learned we don't keep things in just one place, even if it's in a major building like the World Trade Center or below it. That you just have to keep things...soft form everywhere has its advantages.
10:45 I don't think that's the issue. I think a lot of it is a usability issue. A lot of the paper, the interfaces were developed over time, the particular forms and how it's done.
10:59 The computer systems because they're keyboard-based and mouse-based, you have to be sitting down and looking at it, and you're not with the patient and all, they're actually not as good as just scribbling something down on paper, a few marks, and stuff like that.
11:19 Just the usability is bad, and I know doctors who hate it for that reason. The fact that they have to...the way things were coded require understanding and fitting around holes into square pegs. There are a lot of issues.
11:33 It's not the concept of computerizing. It's the actual implementations are version one, version two, and it takes a long time to get it right. That's why we need a lot of experimentation to get it right. It took a long time to get a phone to where we are now. The user interface of handheld devices to get where we are now took a long time.
11:57 Things go through all sorts of iterations. The automobile went through many iterations to get to the form that we're comfortable with today, in terms of the controls, as it moved from controlling a horse and then a horse and buggy to what we now have for automobiles. The same thing happens in a lot of the applications we're talking about.
12:26 Adam: Maybe getting beyond the scope of my knowledge, but aren't most cars really drive by wire? So we really need a stirring wheel to drive a car because it's not a mechanical coupling anymore.
12:45 Dan: You're talking about today. For decades, the same interface worked quite well because that's all we could do with the technology. We did change the way in which the engine is connected to the wheels for optimum performance when we were using the internal combustion engines and the need for the transmission, and then moving to the automatic transmission for most people.
13:14 A lot of things stayed the same for a long time. Early on in the development, there was a lot of experimentation. The same thing is true about the use of computers and things like medical records, et cetera.
13:27 The same thing is true in use of tablets and other forms of input that we're going to have for people who are walking around when they work. They're not sitting down necessarily all the time when they're working. Those types of people, the interfaces for them, are going to go through a lot of evolution.
13:50 The hardware is going through evolution -- the screen that could instantly change smoothly from one form to another that has multiple finger touch interfaces and other forms of input that we're getting with voice, the cameras and the GPS, things that were not possible with paper are starting to happen.
14:19 With a mouse and keyboard, you can't enter handwritten things. You can't take a photograph with a traditional computer until they started adding cameras on it. Even then, you have to move the thing to the camera rather than the camera to the thing, unlike with a tablet or a smartphone.
14:40 With a mouse, you really can't work things up. You can drag things around, but you can't circle something and draw arrows and write text. Writing with a mouse is...I know one person said a long time ago, it's like drawing with a potato.
14:58 When you have today's tablets, millions of people are taking handwritten notes on them every day because they're well- suited to it. As the hardware gives us capabilities and as the operating systems gives us access to those capabilities, we need to see how to apply that to the type of applications that businesses need for people who are not taking advantage of such technologies.
15:31 Adam: Let's look at this another way. I'm just playing devil's advocate here. One of the potential problems is that you're ahead of the curve on price, and specifically price of the device. As I said, in a hospital setting for example, the laptop generally is mounted on this cart.
16:01 That has something to do with protecting that device from being stolen. You said that when you go into a doctor's office, they still hand you a physical clipboard when you register.
16:14 Dan: At my doctor's office. I know doctor's offices that use my program on the iPad, they handed them iPads.
16:21 Adam: That's my question. You think we're ready for people to be handing other people iPads?
16:29 Dan: I think we're ready if we could develop the software inexpensively enough. The tablets have already gotten down in price. You can get a reasonable tablet with some brand name in a store like Walmart for about $70.
16:45 One of the things about the tablet is when you say tablet, you're really talking about different...there are many different uses for the same type of hardware. One use for tablets is as a laptop replacement. It's something lighter and easier to carry around and lends itself well to reading mail, if that's what you mainly do on your laptop, Internet, and some other things like that, and small amounts of creation.
17:16 Once you add a keyboard to it with a keyboard case, then of course, it's completely a laptop replacement. Another use of tablets is for watching movies, playing games, reading books, and browsing the Internet. A consumption device, if you want to view it that way.
17:40 We have the productivity use, the laptop replacement, which is used by people who are using it probably sitting down, the same way they would with the laptop but it's lighter and easier to carry. For reading and stuff, they like the touch. They also like to do a little bit of the media stuff.
18:01 Then, there's the media use, the gaming use, and other applications in the home. Then there's use in business, use as a device. For example, Apple uses them for information in the Apple Store about other devices that you're selling.
18:23 They may be selling an iPad or a Mac of some sort, but the information about it is on the screen that's live and acts as a display device, an advertising display device, information display device. There are places that use them as replacements for cash registers.
18:50 It's used to take orders at restaurants instead of scribbling something down. It let's them directly get the orders. There are many different ways of using the tablet. In this case, I think, when you're talking a laptop replacement and some of the others and a lot of the applications, you may want very expensive ones.
19:16 You may want the particular applications that Apple provides, come on the Apple system, et cetera, or the cachet of having that and some of the accessories. In business, $50 for a tablet, they're never going to get down there. The case you're putting it in, is it like the carts you talked about? The carts are to actually hold it, not to keep it from being stolen.
19:46 That, too, but they have a lot of devices around that they want to keep from being stolen. It's because it has to be at a certain height to use it, and it's heavy. One of the nice things about some of the new tablets is they're lighter. You can hold it all the time for a long period of time. I see that that's something very special about the tablets.
20:09 The prices you can have, I'll have one tablet for one application, because the application, if you can develop it inexpensively enough...Which has been a problem before. Which is what we're addressing with Alpha Anywhere, is the ability to inexpensively produce the applications, especially ones that need features like working disconnected, et cetera, which we can talk about separately.
20:36 You can say, "I will dedicate this particular tablet." One of the issues we have with phones is that I only want to carry one phone. That's one of the issues. I don't want to carry a phone for work and I have my own, and I want to have my own because it's the number I give to my friends. It has my pictures of my kids. It has the apps I want to run.
21:02 There are real security issues from a corporate viewpoint with that. The same security issues that if you're talking about a tablet that's being used as a laptop replacement that I want to have with me at home and I want to have it at work and I want to have it everywhere and I want to run the apps that I want to run. That runs into issues with certain security issues.
21:28 They can be addressed, but it's been a problem. This has to do with being stolen, et cetera, and perhaps with rogue applications. Malware of various sorts.
21:40 However, when we're talking about an application like a clipboard application, you could say, "Oh, I'm not going to take my gorgeous tablet from home with its wonderful leather case, and I'm going to bring it to work in the factory where it may break or it might get grease on it.
21:57 No, I expect you to give me one, just like I expect you to give me a lot of the tools that I'm using. I expect you to provide a lot of the things that are not personal." In doing that, the corporation can say, "This application, this use, I will dictate which the hardware is. I only have to test on that hardware.
22:19 "I get to switch or choose vendors as I see fit, especially if I use a development system that lets me build it once and run it on a wide variety of systems without much change. When it comes to security, if I want to lock it down in some way, that's fine, because I'm not affecting your other applications."
22:43 In the clipboard world, the security also has the advantage that much of what you're doing is data capture. We don't lock down the paper. The paper doesn't have a handcuff to your wrist because we're worried about the paper being stolen. All it has is the data that you just entered.
23:04 It doesn't have the corporate jewels of the complete list of customers and their social security numbers and things like that. The same thing is often true of many of these clipboard applications. They only need to have data that was recently captured, and there's less of an issue with security.
23:23 Adam: Another way of thinking about clipboards is they also are, you said, containers. It's a chunk of information, and that chunk can be associated with things. I know I keep referring back to medical examples. Each patient gets a chart, and the chart, again, is the generic term for the collection of paper related to them.
23:46 Usually, that chart exists connected to the bed somehow, in a holder or with some kind of hook that it's attached to. There is something psychologically comforting or easier, as a frame of reference, to say, "This is patient X's chart, and this other chart is for a different patient." Do you envision that happening, where there would be separate tablets for each person?
24:17 Another case where I've seen this, and I guess I've really only seen it on TV or in the movies, is on a construction site where there is the trailer where they have their headquarters. There's a whole bunch of clipboards on the wall, and they're hanging on hooks. Each clipboard, I assume, serves a different purpose, and you pull down the clipboard you need.
24:44 Do you think that will also translate? There's something that's built into people's ways of interacting with the information that lets them say, "This thing contains the information, and different information is contained in a different thing."
25:00 Dan: Yes, I can completely see that. Of course, that's the dream of many hardware manufacturers who are going to be in this. I think that the containers, if you have to have a standard tablet and stick it in a container that's appropriate, like to hang it on something, it may end up costing as much as the device.
25:23 I think that that's a perfect example of stuff, because the navigation to switch one tablet form one situation to another to another, it may be easier and less error-prone to have separate devices. Especially when the devices could, in many cases, communicate.
25:47 In a pinch, the same stuff that is on the clipboard by the bed is also on the big-screen monitor in front of the nurse's station, is also available to the doctor at a distance for calling up if necessary. It's may be, also, the display and other things may lend themselves to this other.
26:10 As you point out, from a security viewpoint, that way you don't have to have every device has access to everything. You might be able to have devices that are more locked down, that have fingerprint detectors and eye detectors and who knows what, the only ones that can get to everything.
26:35 One of the things we're learning in the wearables space, and we have, to some extent, in the smartphone and tablet space, is that there's a lot about the device physically that matters, including how it looks and how it feels physically in addition to how it reacts electronically. Its space in the real world, how it feels in your pocket, on your wrist, on the wall, et cetera, matter.
27:15 It used to be computers were so expensive and so big that you had to share one for everything in a room, a huge room that a whole company shared that huge, auditorium-filled computer. Then, eventually, we get down to we have the one computer that was in the shrine in the den, perhaps, where the one computer in the family may have sat.
27:39 Then everybody had a laptop. Now, of course, we all have phones with us all the time, smartphones. What you're talking about is a situation where devices are so inexpensive we can have them all over the place and use them as-needed if that's appropriate to the application.
29:01 We're going to have one big screen that has data displaying at one time from five patients versus one tablet that has one aspect of information of one patient. If that's appropriate for the situation, so be it. We have that ability now. If we need to have warnings that need to let you know that you have to have, always, the doctor...
28:30 We had pagers that they wore on their belts so they would feel it when they would need to be called. We can do the same, as well as we can have the watches and other wearables to be able to communicate things to the right person at the right time.
28:48 Connectivity and inexpensive computing power and various sensors and actuators and output devices give us so many mix-and- match possibilities, if we can get the cost down to met the needs. And the right systems for developing the applications that are needed for the prototyping and experimentation that will be needed to be able to develop these.
29:17 As you point out, you don't know what's going to feel better. What will doctors feel more comfortable with? What will be less error-prone to cause less patients to die by mistake? These are important things. Usability is life or death, as they found out just with simple things like which drugs you give when to which patient.
29:40 Adam: Historical use is important. People develop patterns of use that give them comfort. The tablet that's running this clipboard app or recording information will be connected to a network. I'd like to get into the whole off-line issue and exactly when it's connected, but we can get to that in a little bit.
30:14 One of the issues is that that tablet can not only be an input device, it can be a retrieval device. That's different than the paper clipboard model where the paper clipboard model has a certain amount of past history but not everything. Certainly not things unrelated to that particular clipboard.
30:39 As I said, you can't look at another patient's information when you look at one patient's chart. It's only that one patient's information. Even though you could build apps that are both entry and retrieval, do you think people might actually want the device to not be retrieval?
31:03 They'd rather say, "No, this device is a recording device, and when you want to actually look up everything or cross-reference multiple patients, multiple procedures, you go to a computer to do that." Because people think of computers as retrieval devices?
31:23 Dan: Questions like that will only be answered by people trying it and seeing what it feels like. The answer is it depends, and it may be situational dependent. It might be that, while I want it to be mainly an input device, I may want it to be doing certain validation or a specific type of calculation to be able to perhaps warn me of a situation immediately.
31:59 That's not really input and retrieval, it's input and computation or some processing of some sort and output. I think all of the above will come about. There will be no one way.
32:20 That's what's so frustrating about some of this thinking about mobile, is that people fixate on one particular use or piece of hardware. We're talking about general purpose types of devices. We have to look at how to use them in particular contexts. Something that is right in one context may be wrong in another. We have to understand the context in which we're working.
32:53 That's why I like to talk about clipboard replacements, because it gives you one particular context that I think helps. It's not the only use, which is why you don't want a system that just tries to pretend like it replaces a clipboard. You want to be able to mix and match a lot of these other situations you're bringing up, which are wonderful.
33:17 If I talk about something being a hardhat for use in hardhat environments, it gives you a context to think about that probably involves heavy machinery or construction, things that might fall. You don't think that the hat you're wearing is hard, because you don't think of football in a situation like that. By saying that, we're setting a general context.
33:46 The same thing's true of clipboards. We're saying the general context. It's the type of things where you would have clipboards. The actual current use of physical clipboards gives you some ideas, like you're pointing out about separate for each person. Physically, you had to do that.
34:05 Now you can ask the question and say, "Did it evolve to that for a reason that it's better? Or is it because it was easier or only possible with the technology of the day?" We now get to ask those questions and come up with the answers. I think it's really important to companies to experiment as much as possible in these areas to learn.
34:37 They will find things that are surprising. They will find things that they thought were the right way to do it or the wrong way to do it are indeed the right way or the wrong way, and they will also find out that they were wrong in some cases. This has been the case with computing all along.
34:54 Adam: Let's go back to this hardhat idea, because we had a pretty long focus on a medical application and specifically hospitals. In the hardhat conception, you're talking about at a construction site or it's some kind of manufacturing site, an oil rig. Someplace where there's people working with heavy machinery. Also, it implies some kind of hazardous situation.
35:30 That gets into how this information is captured from the device. You don't want to be afraid of the device smashing. Even if they're cheap enough that you don't care if it breaks, you run the risk of losing your data. Do we need some kind of intermittent sync with some central server, especially without requiring the person in the field to think about it, Without saying, "My tablet has dirty information. It's collected information that hasn't been saved."
36:08 Dan: When it comes to when to get the data off of the device and put it into a centralized place, assuming that you're going to need to do that, because the application you're talking about requires remembering it over time or sharing it somewhere else.
36:27 In the ideal situation, you want to be connected all the time, because that gives you the most flexibility. In reality, though, you don't always have that opportunity. There are cost issues with having always connected.
36:44 You either have to be in a place where there's enough connectivity, for example WiFi, that works everywhere in every corner, in every nook cranny of where you're going to be working. Which is a tough situation, especially in many hardhat situations. The same thing's true even with cellular data. There's a limit to where it is, the same way there's costs associated.
37:13 If you have many devices, if you're talking about lots of devices, each one with a data plan, in today's world, that could get too expensive for some of the applications that would be appropriate for.
37:32 What we've seen previously in the world where we had to computerize and they produced the earlier tablets like the tablet PCs that are hardened and the tough books and stuff like that, manufacturers were able to say, "There is a market here. I will build a specialized device for use in certain specialized environments."
37:58 It doesn't have to be nice looking to be used in a meeting or in a social situation. It can be as tough as is necessary. In fact, maybe you want it to look that way. The same thing with cases that could be built for it, et cetera. This, of course, gets into one of the reasons why you don't want to bring your own device from home. These are situations where the job provides the device.
38:31 Perhaps the device is specific to the specific use that device will be used for.
38:40 Adam: What about a completely different conception of this, which is the device itself is only there to run the app, which is only there to collect the information? The information has value, but the device itself could be disposable. There could be situations, for example, where it's a one-time use.
39:10 Dan: $50 is a small amount of money in that situation, which is not uncommon in business. In medical, too.
39:21 Adam: In medical, when a procedure is done, many objects are used that are taken out of the wrapping, used, and then thrown away for contamination reasons. That might be another reason for dealing with the tablets that way. What that also brings up, then, is whether people think of this thing that they're working with as the device or the form they're filling out.
39:51 Which is the thing they're working with? For example, we keep talking about the clipboard, but the clipboard is just the holder. The form is really the important part. It's the thing that carries the information.
40:05 Dan: Right. Actually, it's not really the form, it's the ink or pencil marks that you left that I could get rid of the form if I just know where it is that you made the marks. That's in the old days of the taking tests with marking the number two pencil. The position of your mark is all that mattered. Even today with some of the uses in filling out forms with some data capturing systems.
40:39 The line between the device and the software is very fluid in people's mind. The specific device often doesn't matter as much, because if everything is in the software in the memory, especially today with the cloud stuff, I can go from one device to another and my email is just there. Even with what's read and wasn't read is close enough up-to-date, in many cases.
41:17 When it comes to the loss of a device before synchronization that has been done, that's a whole separate thing. In many situations, you can generally have connectivity. It's just that if you don't have connectivity, you would like to know that the device has not been synchronized yet so that you won't dispose of it until it happens.
41:41 We do that with all sorts of things as it is today. You wait until it's all been taken off of something, and then you can throw it away. When I had a blood test that went together with my physical this morning, they used a device, a needle, to help draw blood. They had to wait until all the blood came out before they could take that out of me.
42:07 They had to wait the right amount of time until the little vial filled up. What is the app, what is the data, and what is the device? They're all connected, in a way. Depending on the application, the data may be all that matters, but the device helps you in being able to present the data and capture the data.
42:41 The application is the thing that makes it all work and has to be tuned to make that all happen. It's like saying is device the screws that hold together or is it the paint? They're all part of what it is.
43:00 Adam: Something that's related to this, which is the device. which is the app, is the time it takes for people to build their mental models around something, to build their use case. Use cases, once they're established, seem self-evident. Of course that's how you use it. How else would you use it? That doesn't happen automatically.
43:24 Dan: Of course you have a word processor. Of course you have a presentation. A spreadsheet? Haven't they been doing that forever? Right.
43:31 Adam: One of the challenges you have for this clipboard replacement is the time it takes for people to build the constructs. Laptops evolved out of desktop computers, which evolved out of terminals. Smartphones evolved out of bigger mobile phones.
43:58 Dan: Or less smart phones.
44:01 Adam: Yes. Bigger mobile phones and then wall-mounted phones. A lot of the behaviors for dealing with a phone or a computer took many years to establish. What you're trying to do is create a new use case, a new pattern for using software and computer technology. How long does it take for that to happen, and how do we promote it? How do we show people this is how you use it?
44:32 Dan: I think that the clipboard replacement is a very interesting one to look at. That's the one we're talking about now. There's often an analogy of a form that was used before. Initially, what was happening with some systems, especially on desktops, is we just made the form look like a paper form.
44:54 The layouts were the same and stuff, and you could click little checkboxes, and you could type into areas instead of sticking it into a typewriter or writing it with a pencil. In the case of these tablets, the physics are different. Your finger's big, we're using touch. Rather than just mimic exactly the form, we may be collecting the same data.
45:22 If we're collecting the same data, stuff that we present to you we might present in the same form. It'll feel very comfortable. Collecting the same data, you're used to it. If we can use controls that feel natural for the type of data, people who are used to controls like that, because they've been using smartphones and stuff themselves for years.
45:43 It's now over the hump. We've already trained them about some of how you do things, because they've been using other applications they care about. Because of that, it'll feel comfortable if we're getting the same data, providing things in ways that look the same. Then we can start moving and seeing what do they feel most comfortable with in terms of changes?
45:06 Some things will be natural. They'll say, "I've played the following game. I know how to do that. Why doesn't it work this way? I think that would feel better with this type of a device." as they use it, of course, they'll start finding out that each time we get to a certain level, then we can move you to another level. It's like Piaget in terms of developmental stages for child development.
46:39 That's one of the things that's going to be real important. When the mouse first came to use on systems, Apple said, "It's really simple. All you need to do is push this one button." At Microsoft there were all these applications that people were using that were keyboard-based. Windows, which became pretty dominant, was first built to be able to be used with a keyboard.
47:08 Not necessarily as good as with a mouse, but almost everything you needed to do you could do with a keyboard. That was part of the user interface spec. However, they made the decision, a decision was made by a person I used to work with, Russ Werner, to include it in the release. They put Solitaire with the Windows release, and it was a game.
47:34 People like that game, but the game basically taught you to be comfortable with a mouse. You got used to dragging things around to go into a particular place. You got used to the concept of clicking to select something and dragging to move things. By playing solitaire, you basically were being trained and enjoying it.
47:56 Of course, the same thing occurred with the smartphones with all sorts of applications from the basic ones like calendar, contacts, et cetera to the games. I think the same thing is going to happen in the clipboard replacement. People will get used to doing certain things. They're certainly used to taking pictures with a phone, and people take pictures with tablets today.
48:27 They're used to using it for scanning. This is totally new, but they're used to it now. To hold something in front of you and take a picture is not something that we had a few years ago. Everybody used to take pictures by putting something up to your face and looking through a little thing.
48:47 Only certain professionals could do it holding it away with view cameras and whatever. Now, we've trained people in that, and we can put that into a system and they'll feel it's natural. I think the same thing is going to happen. It's why we need a lot of experimentation. I think we need experimentation in each company's area.
49:11 You won't be able to just buy the best UI for your application because nobody else cares about that application. You do, and it's important to you. It may be up to you to do some experimentation. The benefits could be huge. Or it may be somebody else in your area, the area of a particular piece of use in the warehouse or use in medical situations.
49:40 It's not something that some Silicon Valley company's going to think about building. Is there some company that wants to be in the social world of millions of applications of users? It may matter to your company, and it may matter to the dollars and cents. It may matter to quality. It may matter to health and safety.
50:04 Adam: A number of comments. The Solitaire story is fascinating. I've never heard it told that way. If it literally was designed as a training device, a user interaction training device, then that's a brilliant idea. I'm actually very impressed.
50:27 Dan: Russ, I believe, told me that was the reason. Russ was the head of a company that I had helped found about 20 years ago. The history of Windows is an interesting history. There was a decision made to include it in the system. Other things are added for that reason, sometimes, to get you used to it.
50:56 Adam: Here's the problem now. In the case of the Mac and the case of Windows, those were entire computing platforms from a vendor that had a tremendous amount of influence over its users.
51:13 In the case of Alpha, it's a development system with a number of users, but it doesn't have the presence in the marketplace to say, "Along with this clipboard replacement there's this other set of tools we're going to give you that show you how to do it." How to do it works in two ways.
51:36 For example, what I always admired about the early Mac is it included MacPaint or whatever the first paint program was. It included things like that because Apple was saying, "This is how this software should look. This is how it should behave. We really care about how it should behave, and we're going to help you.
52:01 We're going to construct it for you, so we don't have any chance of a thousand developers building a thousand things." Alpha doesn't have that capability.
52:11 Dan: I think that some of what it was is those were test applications that were being used to, first of all, to shake down the whole system and also to show you how it could be used. Though MacPaint was one that was different in terms of standards and some other things. It was designed by a person who was obviously intimately familiar with the parts that he's building.
52:37 You could use it for that. He didn't first put it on the Mac. I think they put it on the Apple II first. It was so appropriate for the Mac. In the case of Alpha, the things that you want to do, people are already building. They're just expensive to build it. People already know some of the things they want to do here and we're going to have some examples.
52:52 In the case of what we're doing is, were trying to make it less expensive to build it. To change the level of a person's experience necessary in certain areas, to build it so that they can be experienced in other areas, to make the applications better. They don't have to be as good a coder. They can be much more knowledgeable about the user.
53:31 They can use people who know how to do web layouts, use the web technologies for layouts to be able to layout how the screen should look on a tablet. They can take advantage of those technologies. They can use those without having to learn some other system.
53:50 It's not that we're the only tablet replacement, there are all sorts of uses for tablet replacement that are out there. It's just that, right now, it's so expensive to produce it.
54:02 People know that they should do this and people are trying. People have been using tablets in medical intake for years. I know because I had customers doing it, but they handed them a tablet and the tablet had a PDF picture on it.
54:18 People would check it out, write it, and then they would hand it to the person behind the desk, who then either printed it out or mailed it and then typed it in from there or sent it off to the doctor. That was an inexpensive way of doing it.
54:39 Service personnel had been using tablets that way for years, but it hasn't been as widespread because we couldn't take full advantage of the other features we knew we wanted to take advantage of. We're making it easier to do that.
54:56 Tying to back-end data that exists today is a major concern of corporations. Being able to have whatever they build for use like this, to tie into their data, not just to be like a tablet, but also to connect into existing SQL data, OData, Salesforce, SAP, et cetera. They wanted to do that.
55:21 They also want them to be able to work in the far corners of the warehouse, where when the pallets are moved around, there is no WiFi. They want it to be able to work literally in the field where there may be no connectivity, so they needed to be able to produce, have systems that could at least sometimes work disconnected.
55:41 That was very expensive on many systems that could do some of the other stuff. With Alpha, we're making it much easier and much less expensive in terms of development time to be able to do that. I don't think that Alpha's trying to do something new for people that we have to teach them and stuff like that. I think it will let them make something that will feel natural for the application at a cost that is acceptable for those applications.
56:19 Does that answer your question well enough?
56:21 Adam: Yeah, what that brings up, and this will be the last thing we have time to cover, is the fact that Alpha is already building, or by building on Alpha you already have a large base of technology, and that technology provides functionality that enterprises already need.
56:46 You've mentioned some of them. You want to be able to work offline and then sync when you get connectivity. Alpha already has that.
56:55 Dan: Yes.
57:00 Adam: You also want to be able to sync up with data that already that exists. The idea of this thing being just a brand new set of data would be pretty rare. It will be built on an existing inventory system or medical record system that would be on something like SQL Server or Oracle or some existing large scale database.
57:26 Dan: Large organizations are not just replacing the clipboard, they're extending their existing technology to the clipboard.
57:38 I think what we're saying is that you've always been able to build applications like this with Alpha Anywhere since we came out with it, and people are. What we're doing now is we've looked at those various applications that were built and we're saying, "Hmm, where did we have some bottlenecks in development that we could make easier?"
58:02 The technologies that we provided you, the capabilities we provided you, where were they cumbersome for doing some type of applications? They may have been much more streamlined than other ways of developing, but for this particular use of clipboard replacement, can we make it even easier?
58:24 What are the things that led to the particular technologies that we've added to Alpha Anywhere and that we're adding to Alpha Anywhere to make it so much easier to produce these types of applications with Alpha Anywhere than it was before.
58:43 We're starting from a base that has many capabilities and was very efficient and people were doing it for applications, for people who are walking around before and carrying paper.
58:56 We're trying to lower the bar even more and to make it that you need to be even less of a coder. You can do even more without doing any coding or be able to use people that have much more easily found experience and knowledge and skills than was necessary before. That's what we're doing in this initiative.
59:24 We're looking at saying, "What type of data input did we did not support easily before? How are we making certain types of data input a lot easier to get at a click of a button on the developers side or to provide a better version of that to go deeper than we had before without you doing any programming." That's what this initiative has been about.