"Make simple things simple, and complex things possible." - Alan Kay
I have always wondered about the boundary between a toy and a tool. When does a tool become a toy?
I have unknowingly referred to Apple products as my phone, my watch, or my mac. But for other products, it is Microsoft Windows, Dell laptop, or Google search. Apple products feel like toys; other products feel like a tool. My kids don't see Apple as a technology company but as a toy company, the biggest toy company on the planet. Apple makes the toys that snap into each other.
The same distinction carries over to mobile apps. Consumer apps like Instagram or TikTok feel like toys, whereas enterprise apps like SalesForce.com feel like tools. A user wants to get out of the SalesForce.com app as quickly as possible, while the same user forgets about time on her WhatsApp. Nobody blamed SalesForce.com apps for dopamine addiction. Business people spoiled by the influence of these consumer apps want their enterprise apps to feel snappy and playful.
Most enterprise apps are tools to get the job done with little or no play involved. It would be hard to find people immersed in their business apps and come out refreshed with fresh insights. The business apps would reduce the pain of using them by decreasing the interaction within a business app. These apps would automate processes on your behalf, show you dashboards, scrap screens, use words like AI, and replace you and your insights by making a fragile ecosystem of mechanical automation that cannot withstand the evolution of new business models and information flows.
As Microsoft Exec explained in the video, enterprise apps have to do 1000 things that a typical user doesn't care about. At the same time, the competitive pressure on these enterprises' apps would force them to add even more features making it even harder for users to figure out how to access the functionalities they care about.
Obviously, this cannot go on. Something would have to give. Some new kind of interface, a new programming model, or a new abstraction that reduces the cognitive load on enterprise app users. One approach would be to bury the app's complexity under a conversational facade. However, this would be just a coping mechanism and even feels like we are regressing to the familiar "command prompt."
To truly make a business app that allows you to play with your business and feels like a toy, one has to look at the first toy designed for a business called VisiCalc; now, we may call its sibling Excel. I have seen people immersed in their spreadsheets and playing with them for hours. However, spreadsheets are esoteric for regular people, designed for single-person use, and require desktop size screens to navigate and play fully. To bring the playfulness of spreadsheets to the impatient mobile web users, we have to change how they interact with spreadsheets; instead of a keyboard, mouse, and desktop display. Just plain vanilla texting!
Let us take this further; I propose a toy app that fuses spreadsheets and messaging. The spreadsheet is in the background, and you are messaging the spreadsheet as if the spreadsheet were a human. This personification of the spreadsheet retains the simplicity of messaging but brings the magic of the spreadsheets to the users bound to their mobile phones.
Let us take an example. Imagine sending your spreadsheet messages about all the food you ate during the day, and in the background, the spreadsheet is updated with a breakdown of macro and micro nutrients. Now you have a personal database about your food habits, and you can ask the spreadsheet, "Compared to last month, how much more carbohydrates did I eat this month."
I know what you are thinking; this is just a toy. So let us augment this conversational app a little more without losing the toyness. Let us put all our exercise data into the spreadsheet as well, and why stop there? Let us put our weight, blood pressure, sleep time, wake up time, TV viewing time, work time, and everything you can imagine. You can use this data to figure out why you gained 3 pounds last week, conversationally. Do you see another beautiful enterprise toy app, Tableau lurking underneath?
This whole field of quantified self gets a boost through our toy app, but let us not stop here, let us imagine this toy app as the automation foundation for the small and medium enterprises. There are 400 million micro, small and medium enterprises desperate for automation who would welcome this new abstraction. There is no learning curve for these adopters, and our toy would be low cost, easy to change, and quick to evolve with their business just like spreadsheets.
We can create a conversational do-it-yourself-kit to program spreadsheets and make it easy to create conversational apps. We also can build a community of 10 million conversational app developers who would automate these hard-to-reach 400 million MSMEs. We foresee this automation approach perfected within the dynamic and competitive space of 400 million MSMEs to become standard practice for the Global 5000 companies with a large community of developers integrating their legacy enterprise apps into this global conversational backbone.
If you humor us for a moment, we can build the next trillion-dollar toy company! Anyone!!
The world is becoming complex and interconnected that every regular human brain would need some external hardware to augment the wetware. We believe creating an alternate memory system that records, remembers, suggests, and guides you through your life choices is a must. We are building a precursor of such a memory system. Want to join us!
by Bhavesh Soni
Founder of neoXL
Please find similar essays at https://www.neoxl.com/essays