The question of the single converged device has been around for over 30 years now, almost from the time the second portable device was introduced (whatever that was). A few years ago, conventional wisdom was that the iPhone finally answered that question affirmatively. The iPhone was going to kill MP3 players, cameras, portable game devices and just about everything else portable. As so often is the case, that conventional wisdom was wrong then and only gets more wrong every day. Let me put it simply: the single converged device will never exist.
This is not a position I’ve come to recently. I can only find reference to my position on the Internet back to 2008 but my position here actually significantly predates the commercial deployment of the Internet. In fact, it goes back to June 1987! The very first research note I wrote at Gartner back then had this exact same title. If I could actually find that note, I’d just reprint it in its entirety but the gist of the argument is that dedicated devices optimized for specific functions will always outperform general purpose devices. At sufficiently low price points, the optimized device becomes attractive. Further enhancing the attractiveness of dedicated devices is the still-vexing issue of power. If I had devices that were never power-constrained, I might sacrifice certain devices but given real power constraints, we’re often facing trade-offs between device utilization and battery life. Do you really want to play music on your phone while you’re flying if it means that you can’t make that emergency phone call when you land?
The advent of cloud computing has made it easier for us to support multiple devices. In those old days, there was always a file movement challenge. Your files were never on the device you wanted them to be on, and getting them from device to device required technical expertise that was sometimes even beyond my capabilities. Now, my camera is WiFi equipped (well, one of the two that I have) and further can connect automatically through various predefined Internet providers to upload my pictures wherever I happen to be to whatever picture sharing site(s) I want to upload the pictures to. Cloud computing reduces some of the friction of adding an additional device and thus makes it easier to make a dedicated device choice. Of course, many service providers are struggling to keep up with this. My cable provider, Cablevision, will only allow me to have a few devices automatically log in to its WiFi network and my music provider, Rhapsody, will only enable me to register a few devices, certainly not as many as I have.
So, what do I have? And what don’t I have? So, here’s my inventory.
- Desktop computer. A 23″ all-in-one device, perfect for apartment living.
- Laptop computer. 10.6″ Windows 7 laptop. I’ve always gone for smaller, lighter devices and with a real 8 hour battery life and under 4 lbs., this laptop has led a resurgence in Windows-based computing for me. When I say “resurgence,” I still use my portable devices for over half of the email and web browsing I do, but there was a time when my portable access was probably 90%.
- Phone. Samsung Galaxy S III. Big (almost 5″) Android-based phone, 4G, on Verizon.
- Tablet. Google Nexus 7, Wifi only. I use my phone’s hotspot capability when I don’t have Wifi access available.
- MP3 player. I have a Sansa Fuze device, connecting to the Rhapsody To Go subscription music service.
- Cameras: I have a Samsung pocket camera (Wifi-enabled), a Panasonic digital videocamera and a Fuji faux-SLR (higher end than a pocket camera but not really an SLR, but a fraction of the price).
- TV: I have a Samsung 46″ “Smart TV” in the living room and a 32″ “dumb” TV in the bedroom. Both are connected to TiVo. I have a Roku box connected to the bedroom TV.
- Game console: I’m going to hook my son’s Xbox360 to the living room TV. He has left it here since his roommates in college already have one (or maybe even several).
- I have a home phone system that connects via Bluetooth to my cell phone so that I can leave the cell phone charging and still walk around the apartment with phone handsets.
- Printer: an HP all-in-one device (inbound faxing is done via eFax; the device isn’t actually connected to a phone line). The device also has HP’s ePrint service so I can print to it from mobile devices and remote locations. I admit I’ve never done this other than to test the capability.
- I also have various portable charging devices so keep all these things powered up. I’m constantly reminded I should bring extra ones along, not because I need even more power but because every time I use one, typically at a Starbucks or airport, someone comes up to me marveling at my solution. I’m sure I could sell them at a huge markup.
And what don’t I have?
- Phablet (that awkward cross between a phone and a tablet). There’s little room between my 5″ phone and 7″ tablet for the interim device.
- 10″ tablet. I actually had an early Android 10″ tablet (Acer A500) but given strong battery life on my 10.6″ laptop, I found I was using my laptop more and more and the tablet less and less, so when I got the Nexus 7, I gave the big tablet to my son (who uses it).
- Dedicated game device. I just don’t play that many games.
- You’ll notice I have no Apple products. That’s my political statement. I think Apple does beautiful work (although you sure have to pay a premium for that level of integration) but I don’t like the control they exert over their ecosystem. If Apple was in charge of the Internet in the early days, the Internet would look nothing like it does today, and not in a good way. I’m a believer in open ecosystems generally and I’m willing to pay an integration premium to support that belief.
And I see more devices in my future, not fewer.
In 1987 I wrote “the single converged device will never exist.” In 2013, 25-1/2 years later, I stand by that position.
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