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  1. illustration of cloud with multicolor pixelated raindrops

    Mobile Collaboration

    The smartphone era is finally getting the productivity software it needs.

  2. Agricultural Drones

    Relatively cheap drones with advanced sensors and imaging capabilities are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage.

  3. Ultraprivate Smartphones

    New models built with security and privacy in mind reflect the Zeitgeist of the Snowden era.

  4. Brain Mapping

    A new map, a decade in the works, shows structures of the brain in far greater detail than ever before, providing neuroscientists with a guide to its immense complexity.

  5. Neuromorphic Chips

    Microprocessors configured more like brains than traditional chips could soon make computers far more astute about what’s going on around them.

  6. Genome Editing

    The ability to create primates with intentional mutations could provide powerful new ways to study complex and genetically baffling brain disorders.

  7. Microscale 3-D Printing

    Inks made from different types of materials, precisely applied, are greatly expanding the kinds of things that can be printed.

  8. silhouette profile of man wearing an oculus rift headset

    Oculus Rift

    Thirty years after virtual-reality goggles and immersive virtual worlds made their debut, the technology finally seems poised for widespread use.

  9. Atlas robot standing tethered

    Agile Robots

    Computer scientists have created machines that have the balance and agility to walk and run across rough and uneven terrain, making them far more useful in navigating human environments.

  10. Smart Wind and Solar Power

    Big data and artificial intelligence are producing ultra-accurate forecasts that will make it feasible to integrate much more renewable energy into the grid.

illustration of cloud with multicolor pixelated raindrops

Mobile Collaboration

The smartphone era is finally getting the productivity software it needs.

  • by Ted Greenwald
  • One afternoon last fall, David Levine took the subway from his office in lower Manhattan to a meeting at Rockefeller Center in midtown. The 35-year-old CIO of the startup investment firm Artivest was working on a blog post with colleagues and with freelancers in Boston and Crete. Levine used a new app called Quip to type the post on his iPhone, his wireless connection waxing and waning as the F train clattered through the tunnels. Quip let the team make changes, add comments, and chat via text, all presented in a Facebook-style news feed. Whenever Levine’s connection returned, the app synchronized his contributions with everyone else’s, so they all were working on the same version.

    Mobile Collaboration
    • Breakthrough Services that make it fruitful to create and edit documents on mobile devices.
    • Why It Matters Much of today’s office work is done outside an office.
    • Key Players Quip
      Quickoffice
      Box
      Dropbox
      Microsoft
      Google
      CloudOn

    Had they been working with a traditional word-processing program, the process would probably have been a drawn-out round-robin of e-mail messages, proliferating attachments, and manual collation of disparate contributions. Instead, “by the time I got out of the subway, the post was done,” Levine recalls, “and by the time I got out of the meeting, it was on the website.”

    This story is part of our May/June 2014 Issue
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    It has taken a while for the software that helps people get work done to catch up with the fact that many people are increasingly working on tablets and phones. Now new apps are making it easier to create and edit documents on the go. Meanwhile, cloud-based file storage services, including Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s ­OneDrive—which have plunged in cost and soared in usage—help keep the results in sync even as multiple users work on the same file simultaneously. Some cloud services do this by separating what look to users like unified files into separate entries—paragraphs, words, even individual characters—in easily manipulated databases. That lets them smoothly track and merge changes made by different people at different times.

    But the most interesting new mobile collaboration services don’t just replicate the software we’re accustomed to using on desktop computers. They also highlight an aspect of group work that received scant attention in the days when coworkers gathered together in offices: the communication that is part and parcel of collaboration. That back-and-forth can have as much value as the content itself. It can keep the team on track, inform participants who join the process late, and spark new ideas.

    In traditional word-processing software, much of that conversation gets lost in “notes,” comments, or e-mail. But new document-­editing apps capture the stream of collaborative communication and put it on equal footing with the nominal output of the process. Box’s document-­collaboration service Box Notes displays avatar icons along the left-hand margin to show who contributed what; CloudOn, a mobile editor for Microsoft Office documents, gives prime placement to both conversations (comments, messages) and tasks (editing, approvals, permissions); and Quip displays a running text-message thread.

    “It’s like you walked over to someone’s desk and said, ‘Read this and let me know if you have any questions,’” says Bret ­Taylor, Quip’s founder and CEO, who was formerly CTO at Facebook. “It’s a very personal, intimate experience that has been lost since the days of e-mail.”

    By incorporating streams of messages about the work being created, these apps reflect the fact that many communications are now brief, informal, and rapid. “Most younger people rely on short-form mobile messaging and use e-mail only for more formal communications,” ­Taylor points out.

    For Levine, who has been known to fire off a blog post before getting out of bed in the morning (much to his wife’s dismay), this mobile way of working is far more consonant with the way he lives—striving to squeeze every last iota of productivity out of each moment. “It allows me to accomplish what I need to do without interrupting my flow,” he says. Even when he’s in a subway tunnel.

    Ted Greenwald

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