Possible Implications of Surface tablet for SharePoint

In retrospect there was a certain inevitability about the release of the Microsoft Surface tablet. The determination shown via Windows 8 beta of shoving a mobile centric touch screen operating system down our throats makes more sense with the existence of the Surface tablet. Mobile device centric hardware and software from a single vendor, working together in perfect harmony (we hope).

This all casts a little light on the longer term vision for SharePoint too. Office 365 and its successor version, working up there in the cloud, accessible by users from their Surface tablets. No need for an organisation to ever have any servers in the building, or PCs for that matter, (or even an office?!...).

The major hint aside from the move towards the cloud being that the next SharePoint will be touch friendly, or starting to move that way. Perhaps even the current model of having a desktop view and a mobile view of lists will tilt towards the mobile way of doing things. This is conjecture, I have no early access to details of the next SharePoint, but the portents are stacking up.

How would a touch screen friendly SharePoint UI be put together? HTML 5, Silverlight, or both? No idea, (but the world seems to be edging towards HTML 5 in a big way, so that's the skill I'd rush to before the SharePoint 15 release). Alternatively of course, we may have specialist Metro apps to interface with SharePoint for us.

Any moves in this direction are going to make upgrades of legacy components and UI customizations a little sticky. Of course they're already pretty challenging to do with Office 365, so We already have our upgrade work cut out for us. Nothing new here! Just another paradigm shift in the IT industry, yawn. ;)

These new visions come along on a regular basis. Sometimes they stick, and sometimes they don't. I have some sort of Luddite gene that leaves me unconvinced by the tablet revolution thus far. I'm left with the feeling we're still running to catch up with some guys vision on tablets for the sake of catching up with it. Tablets might be the future of business computing, but it's surely also possible that the emperor has no clothes? The iPad was a consumer hit but not a transformational tool for business.

Looking at my business customers I honestly see no real move towards this way of working. People are interested in mobile solutions to look up contact details or reports on the road sure, but the majority of time they're in an office working on spreadsheets, documents, and bespoke systems on a desktop PC. Can't see a tablet being the greatest device to write a lengthy document on whether it has a half hearted attempt at a keyboard or not. As for the tablet freeing us from our offices, organisational culture too in general dictates that managers like to see their employees on premises in general. I could've spent much of the last fifteen years working from home, but I haven't been because really the work culture we have is still tilted against that sort of practice.

Don't get me wrong, mobile and touch sensitive devices are great. As computing advances we should be able to find scenarios where a range of input methods are useful; keyboard, touch, gestures, voice recognition, thought control, who knows the future? At the moment we're being shoved along a path towards tablets and touch that doesn't quite add up for me, and I'll be sticking with laptops for a little while (or a lot) longer. As a SharePoint specialist I could well be dragged kicking and screaming away from my current device of choice to remain relevant when SharePoint 15 launches - but I'll cross that bridge when I have to. This all smells like we're still in the Tablet hype cycle, and we'll emerge into reality in a year or two like we have with so many other technologies.

SharePoint has made leaps and bounds in terms of User Experience in the last version, and I'm looking for a similar degree of improvement in the next version. Whether this really does turn out to be touch friendly remains to be seen. All genuine improvements are welcome.

Happy SharePointing!

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