My wife and I have the same smartphone, a Droid Incredible. But because she works for a company with a constipated attitude about confidentiality, some IT guy forced her to install an irritating lockout code on her personal phone just so that, if she ever accidentally leaves it in a cab, the driver won’t be able to read her work email. No, my wife is not a government agent, nuclear researcher, or diplomatic attaché. So why should her employer be able to hijack and suck-ify the basic user experience of a device she pays for with her own money and uses about 100 times a day for non-work purposes?
Well, that’s a question for the lawyers. But more enlightened organizations now have a better option, in the form of an app called “Divide.” It’s so simple that I can’t believe it took this long for someone to invent: it partitions your phone into two profiles, one for work (complete with application-specific passcodes remote management capability) and one for personal use free of lockout passcodes, corporate disabling of Facebook or YouTube, or any other idiotic things that corporate IT drones foist on their victims.
This isn’t interface design as pretty eye-candy–visually, Divide is ho-hum–this is interface design as something much more important: namely, “basic respect for human behavior and privacy.” It’s 2011: smartphones aren’t ultra-expensive gizmos that corporations only dole out to their top earners or most crucial knowledge-hoarders. They’re lifestyle accessories that anyone from toddlers to welfare recipients can own and operate. The contents, appearance, and interface behaviors of a smartphone can (and should be) as personal as the contents of someone’s purse or car. Corporations don’t force you to change the locks or add hardware to your Honda just because you occasionally transport documents in it–so why should a phone be any different?
I know, I know: Digital assets are a different beast. But that’s exactly the point: we can easily design and implement interfaces that address the security concerns of digital commerce without inconveniencing the actual human users. That approach can yield even more inconvenience (and diminishing returns on security) when applied clumsily, like DRM. But it can also illuminate easy, obvious ways to make everyone happy, which is what Divide appears to be. God help me if I ever get a job where my boss needs to throw his weight around with regard to how I use my phone–but if that does happen, I’ll be emailing him a link to Divide right after my first day of work.
[Top image by D. Sharon Pruitt]