I love my mobile phone. Aside from helping me screen calls and serving as my primary phone these days, it is my lifeline when I'm away from my computer. Most often, its role as my connection to the world takes place when I am out running an errand or away from my hometown.

While my mobile phone is my lifeline to the world, it's very hard to do work on it. Sure, I can check email, review very short documents and manage my blog. But real work is a challenge. Most mobile applications are task-based and focused on providing a single feature very well.

If we want to move past this focused mindset to a world of true productivity, we have to give serious thought to an important question. What, if anything, do people really need to accomplish on their mobile devices?

Mobile vs. Portable

One of the first questions to ask is, “What defines a mobile device these days?” Many hardcore tablet users have traveling keyboards that they use for fast typing in meetings. But I have a laptop as light as most iPad/keyboard combinations. For this discussion, let's focus on the mobile devices that people carry around without any special bags or gear.

If you can carry it when you head to lunch or the grocery store, it counts.

Essentially, iPad minis and smaller are in.  Larger tablets are not truly mobile anymore. While great devices, they're more accurately described as laptop replacements, regardless of operating system. Most laptop web interfaces work just fine on those larger devices, so special procedures are not required.

So I have my smart phone or phablet ... now what do I do with it? When I am sitting in the back of the cab or waiting for the doctor to see me, what work do I need to get done?

Reviewing contracts isn't a task for a mobile device. I need a full-sized screen to fully review a document from start to finish. Editing that document is also not ideal. You're better off telling someone to update the language in paragraph four to discuss the new disclaimer policy than trying to do it yourself on a mobile device.

Bite-Sized Work

If you've ever worked on a contract, you know that the contract process doesn't finish after that initial review. There are follow-up reviews, comments from fellow reviewers or from the opposing side, and discussions around key points. Those are all things that are as critical to the process as the final act of signing.

And those actions can be very time-sensitive.

What is needed is an application, besides the ever-present email, to track and manage this process. More importantly, there needs to be an app that addresses the needs of this business problem directly. The hardest thing about doing work on a mobile device is tracking everything and switching between the different applications. A process app to manage and centralize the work is exactly what is needed in this situation.

Learning Opportunities

The Larger Ecosystem

This isn't just about contract review apps. There are many processes that lend themselves to this treatment that can be time sensitive. To date, many vendors have just provided basic workflow applications with an inbox that replaces the content inbox for the email inbox.

An integrated application is needed that allows ready access to all the little bits of context that users need.

The coming process apps will need to remain focused. There is no need for them to recreate every feature. Many of the top “feature” apps have APIs and allow developers to leverage them in their own app. There is a huge ecosystem of feature apps out there, from digital signature to advanced viewers that can be leveraged.

The process apps that people need to get work done need to work with the broader mobile ecosystem. This isn’t just a matter of not recreating the wheel. It's the reality of the mobile world. Storage is finite on a device. It's important to provide the expertise you need without forcing substandard features that clutter the device.

Look at the apps on your phone. How many are just features? How often are you switching from email to other apps to get some routine work done? When it comes to the business solution, there isn’t always an app for that.

There needs to be and soon, there will be lots from which to choose.

Title image by Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.