Wouldn’t it be great to borrow a new iPhone 5 from the Apple store for a couple of weeks, just to see if you liked it? Or to see if it could help you at work? And what about a Kindle Fire?
A new program at Intuit lets all employees do something similar through the company’s Mobile Device Lab loaner program. Like an e-library, anyone at Intuit can check out an iPhone, an iPad or one of any number of Android-based offerings among the lab’s 120 different types of mobile devices.
Conceived as a way to let Intuit engineers rapidly design applications for new mobile devices, the shared device program is open to employees who want to test out a specific phone or tablet, either for a work-specific project or just to see how that device might help them in their daily business activities.
Shane Olbourne, mobile device lab lead, says the seed for the mobile program was planted a couple of years ago, when new mobile devices started to proliferate like weeds. With its customers increasingly turning to mobile devices to manage their personal and business finances, Intuit had a vested interest in getting its programs to run on the newest gadgets as quickly as possible.
But how do you get those devices into the hands of the engineers designing programs for gadgets that emerged on almost daily basis?
“Even for just a handful of engineers, buying a new device for every person was way too expensive,” said Olbourne. The practical solution: Create a lending library of mobile devices, from which engineers could check out the device they needed to better complete their work.
The lab at the company’s Mountain View headquarters is well-stocked. After opening with just a few early iPhones and Android devices, it now offers 350 devices in 13 different categories, including the coolest and newest iPhone of them all, the slim and longer iPhone 5. Similar lending labs are already operating at offices in San Diego and Bangalore, to better serve the growing companywide demand.
Writing code for mobile devices is trickier than creating software for operating systems such as Windows or Macintosh, which are relatively stable and work over many hardware platforms. In contrast, mobile applications must be tuned far more closely to the device hardware, which can vary greatly from device to device. Engineers must tweak apps to account for numerous variables, including screen resolution, processor power and overall device size, like a phone or a tablet. Having the actual device in hand makes engineers’ tasks easier.
Though the devices were always available companywide, more non-engineers became aware of the program shortly after Intuit CEO Brad Smith made mobile a priority. Smith himself turned to the mobile lab team to get his hands on a Windows phone when the first versions came out to become familiar with the device.
While the mobile lab is open to all employees, software engineers probably have the most pressing need to evaluate new devices. Employees may borrow devices for just one day or up to one month. Special projects requiring a longer checkout can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Mobile technology touches almost every part of the company’s business. At the same time, Intuit wants to ensure that employees have the right device to be productive on the job. The lending lab allows any employee to try before they buy, either to ensure their own comfort or to learn new capabilities without having to buy first, try later.
And the best part about the lab? No overdue charges. Just make sure to bring it back!