Posted by:Srini Bhopal August 20th, 2013

Studies indicate that the average mobile worker of today carries over 3 mobile devices on him or her, typically, a laptop, a smartphone and/or tablet, and possibly another hand-held device such as a scanner or receipt printer. Mobile workers need the convenience of switching between devices based on where they are at a particular time. A smartphone or tablet may be convenient on the bus but a tablet or laptop may be better at the client’s office. This means that mobile workers may need to start off a job on one device and want to finish it on another. The commonest scenario here would be running a search query.

Devices like the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s iPhone and iPad offer features that allow users to save their place while reading a document and resume from the same place on a different device. Saving the application state across some devices is also possible. However, search, a feature used by every digital device user has been largely neglected in this area. Sure, there are bookmarks and apps like Evernote but they are only workarounds to a limitation of Search applications. Seamless switchover of search results is not yet a reality.

Why cross-device search?

Search handover management can produce significant efficiencies in the enterprise as well as consumer space. According to a 2012 research conducted by Unisys in combination with Forrester, the consumerization of IT is largely driven by a group they call ‘mobile elite.’ This is a selection of people who insist on using their personal devices to increase their productivity and serve customers better, creating a risk for enterprise IT while helping the business grow.

The mobile elite differentiate themselves from other employees in the organization by being ‘the most innovative and customer-aligned people in your firm’ and ‘more likely to work with customers and business partners, making them a crucial group for IT to understand and assist, so that they can boost their productivity and minimize risks.’

Imagine the value cross-device search can create for this group and other members of your organization. Additionally, cross-device ‘resumption’ creates an intermediary opportunity for marketers and sellers to influence user behavior, especially on the post switch device.

For example, a friend calls you up at office and suggests dinner at some Italian restaurant. You search for good Italian restaurants near your area. If cross-device search is enabled, you save the results and retrieve them again on your smartphone as you walk out to your car after office. During this time, your search has been automatically refined and the offers at various places for that night are also displayed. You call your friend and push the results to her so she can also have a look. You collaboratively decide on a place. How about that?

Of course, cross-device research demands strong prediction accuracy based on behavioral data and temporal factors, which can get very tricky. If not done right, the process can become irrelevant. There’s a good research paper Microsoft on the topic if you’re interested ‘Characterizing and Supporting Cross-Device Search Tasks.’

Cross-device search use cases in the enterprise

Cross-device search has immense potential in the enterprise. Some use cases:

  • Executive searches uses his desktop to search out topics he’d like to discuss in a meeting, pushes the results to his tablet and even sends them to other attendees
  • Voice search during the meeting is used to refine the search and transmit results across devices
  • Executive sends selective results to different people
  • All the while, actions are logged for record keeping and accountability
Clearly, cross-device search can create numerous opportunities that deliver value to the end user. However, getting it right will be hugely challenging. Google recently announced plans to launch cross-device analytics to boost mobile marketing. It’s a good start from the king of search engines. We can expect a lot more down the year as more biggies get interested in the game.

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