I recently met an old friend of mine and a half-dozen of his employees for drinks after work. Over the course of the evening, I got to confirm my suspicious about how smartphone designers are letting us down.
Before the evening was over, I watched every single member of the gathering respond to texts, emails, calls, and alerts on not one but two smartphones each. I was the odd man out with only one device. Everyone else at the gathering carried one work phone and one identical personal phone. Several people used colour-coded cases to tell them apart. One had set up customer alert noises and ringtones. Anotherfellow kept forgetting which of his phones was which.
I pulled a pair of lads aside and asked about the duplication; without hesitating, they both admitted that it was a simple security measure. They didn’t want any personal data to accidentally wind up on a device that their employer had the rights to monitor, and they didn’t want to receive sensitive company information on a personal device (and didn’t want to be blamed if company data accidentally got leaked).
That tactic – segregating your personal life from your professional life – makes perfect sense, and I’ve practised it myself. When I was a head of IT, I drafted policy where we strongly encouraged our employees to keep their personal content safely away from the systems that my security team was required to monitor. The convenience gained by collapsing one’s entire life onto a single PC, tablet, or phone usually wasn’t worth the potential for embarrassment (or, worse, termination for cause!).
That being said, I submit that we should have mitigated this problem by now. We’ve managed over the last decade to fully virtualise our data centres and (for the enterprise) our desktop PC fleets. The technology exists to run two or more fully virtualised instances of a smartphone operating system on a single piece of mobile hardware. Why, I argue, are we not putting it to practical use in the field?
Consider the efficiency advantages: we’d gain all the convenience and cost-savings of carrying only one physical device, but we could swipe back and forth between two completely abstracted virtual phones. With a little clever programming, we could ensure that data couldn’t leak between them. We might even be able to set up different security settings (such as storage encryption and session authentication) between the two virtual machines. In the end, what’s mine stays mine (as the saying goes), and what’s the company’s stays the company’s.
Yes, there would be time-sharing problems with a phone’s radios to overcome, making it somewhat difficult (if not cumbersome) to contend with two different voice calls at the same time. I suspect that this problem is controllable in software. I would actually prefer it if I could set my work phone to always take priority for calls during work hours, sending personal calls straight to voicemail without interrupting my active business call – and to automatically reverse that policy outside normal business hours.
The current generation of smartphones has likely reached the required level of engineering sophistication to make this idea both feasible and relatively painless. I appreciate that there may need to be some additional tweaks made to the hardware to accommodate this, but it’s not a moonshot project. The odds are, there’s a boffin in a quiet cubicle somewhere experimenting with this exact idea. This is probably the next big thing coming out of R&D – probably for government and defence users first, and the rest of us thereafter.