The Future of Productivity Apps

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The productive actions we take as humans in society have not changed in many thousands of years, among them:

  • Communicate
  • Write
  • Draw
  • Calculate

How we do these actions has changed, from stone tablets and steles to papyrus to parchment to paper to notepads to computers to smartphones.

In the computer era, the write/draw/calculate - which often form the basis for many other activities - have been dominated by what has been called "Productivity Software". We used to use WordStar, then WordPerfect, several others in between, and eventually Microsoft Word came to dominate. I distinctly remember when graphical user interfaces became good enough that What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG, pronounced "why-zee-whig") Word processing was an amazing new invention. For over a decade, the standard way to share a contract - communicate what we have written - has been, "email me a Word doc."

While writing a local Word document, then emailing it to your counter-party for revisions, and back again, is orders of magnitude more efficient than what existed before, by the standards of the early 21st century, it seems positively quaint:

  • Multiple file revisions that are hard to keep track of;
  • Expensive word processing software;
  • Need to "attach and send";
  • Insecure revisions.

Despite the extensive featureset of MS Word, the basic needs can be fulfilled far more simply, in a more collaborative fashion.

In this vein, Stepanie Retblatt of Smarty Pants recently did a (not very scientific) survey, quoted on Business Insider, to see what the next generation uses to "be productive". Unsurprisingly, not a single one mentioned Microsoft Word. While some use apps like iOS Notes to start on their mobile and continue on their Mac, the most common answer was Google Docs. Indeed, it misses many of the features of Word, but where it counts, it has all of the advantages:

  • Accurate automatic revisions;
  • Free or near-free;
  • Automatically shared in real time;
  • Guaranteed revision integrity.

When it comes to school work, my kids, as well, very rarely use Word or PowerPoint. I have it installed on my Mac because of my work with clients who need it. But the other computing devices in the house - a netbook, a few tablets - do not have it. My kids simply use Google Docs. They create with it, share, and edit with it, and print from it.

Productivity apps still make lots of money in corporates and from the older generation. But when the younger generation - the future buyers - do not spend on it, its future is in serious question.