The Day the Universe Changed

By Michael Prescott

Senior Engineer;

Richard Carlton Consulting, Inc.

Every once in a while, something comes along that changes everything – and it often goes unnoticed. In 1973, Motorola introduced the first portable commercial telephone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. It was large and clunky and expensive. It was not widely accepted at first.

I remember someone showing one off to a friend and hearing, “Who do you think you are…James Bond?”

But looking back, we can point to that as a moment when everything changed. Until then, a telephone was a link between locations, between one physical address and another. From that moment on a phone could be tied to the Individual: it was now personal.

And because it was personal, we could then ask, “How do I communicate? What does ‘communication’ mean?” Phones got smaller and more affordable. Features were added like Cameras, Web browsing, Texting, and Email. Most children in Elementary School now carry phones and use them almost constantly. “Land-Line” is a term that implies “old”, “outdated”, and almost quaint. A growing number of households have no traditional, land-based phone service at all.

The shift has been so revolutionary that the very concept of the telephone itself has changed forever. The phone is now a “communication point of presence,” by which I can reach out to the world, and it to me – all from a handheld device.

There is another convergence happening – and we may need to wait for history to fully define it – which I believe represents another significant moment:

FileMaker Pro now runs on your iPad and iPhone.

That sound you just heard was the Universe shifting on its axis.

For many, FileMaker Pro is about work. Their business involves tracking multiple threads of information as they move in and through their organization. New customers, new contacts, new tasks, new products, new projects, new ideas – bits of data that represent real things, in the real world, that they need to follow.

Until now, we generally accepted the idea that we sit at our computer, log into FileMaker and manage our process from that point of view: FileMaker=Computer=Location.

Kind of like Telephone=Land Line=Location.

When the phone paradigm Phone=Location changed to Phone=Me, everything changed with it. How we saw ourselves in relation to the phone changed how we used it and what it became.

Computing has been going through the same kind of shift from “Stationary” to “Mobile.” The Laptop Computer was a meaningful transition towards mobility. It allowed us to “set up camp” anywhere, freeing us from the desk. Still, though, it is “setting up camp.” We sit facing the screen and type with both hands on the keyboard, or one on the mouse, and work the computer. The experience is the same; it’s just easier to relocate our base camp.

But Notebooks are fragile. You can’t really walk and use them at the same time. You need a table, if not a chair as well. You must keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. Bad things can happen if you forget the rules.

The iPad is different. It feels like holding a clipboard, which is a “walking around” tool. You can hold it with one hand and work it with the other. It likes to move.

A regular computer, even a notebook, wants you to come to it and stay put. An iPad wants to go out and play. Put it in one of those leather portfolio covers and you can treat it like a book. Open it, use it, close it and set it on the seat next to you. No spinning hard drive, no moving parts, no power cord to trip over. Easy.

As platforms like the iPad become more commonplace and people begin to rethink what a computer is and how we use it, the ways in which we use FileMaker Pro will also evolve. As we begin to take our data management tools along with us, we can begin to manage our data in ways previously unimagined.

We can manage inventory while walking through the warehouse. We can do estimates on location, without having to sync later. We can enter the data once, where we find it, as we need it, and have it live immediately in our Database System. We’ll create “platform-tuned” versions of our Databases for iPad and iPhone, based on how and when we want to use them.

Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola, as he held a device roughly the size of an NBA player’s shoe to his ear and made the first mobile phone call, could not have foreseen our kids texting each other from different rooms in the same house, or folks shopping for shoes while riding on a bus, or having a video conference while sitting on your patio. Likewise, we don’t yet know how our lives will be changed by this. But I am convinced that they will.

We are stepping into unknown territory; but just like every time before, we will adapt. As the phone changed us when we changed the phone, so the challenges and opportunities of a more mobile computing environment will produce new ways of working and new tools to use.

The genius and dedication of brilliant men and women made it possible for a man named Neil Armstrong to step onto the Moon and “take a look around.” It started with a few tentative steps, but before long we had astronauts bopping around in a little SUV and hitting golf balls into space.

So when people see you managing your data on your iPhone or iPad, in a location that may seem unusual (to them), they may say to you, “Who do you think you are, James Bond?”

You can reply, “No. Neil Armstrong.”