Will End User Devices be Multi-function or Single-purpose?

Historically there have been two contrasting approaches to end user devices. The generalised single device for all different functions, and the different specialised devices for specific purposes. We appear to be at a bit of a crossroads at the moment with the market poised to go either way in terms of the dominant strategy.

Puzzled over a multitude of devices?

Puzzled over a multitude of devices?

Motorola with the Atrix smartphone are pursuing a strategy of a single device which converts with different accessories into different form factors. It is a smartphone, but it can be placed into a “lapdock” and then transforms into a laptop. It can be placed into a special dock to function as an in car GPS navigation system.

The Amazon Kindle is the opposite kind of device – a narrow, single-function device – it can only be used for reading ebooks. It excels at this, however, being significantly better in all of the areas that matter to keen readers: battery life, weight, low-eyestrain, and being able to be read in bright sunlight.

The iPad is less specialised than the kindle, but is still more of a single function device. It cannot be used as a phone (it is too big) and it is not designed to be used as a full laptop or PC replacement.

Convertible tablets are being sold by a range of manufacturers (Samsung and Lenovo) and some people think that they will become more than just niche devices. These are tablets that convert into netbooks/laptops (or vice versa) either by attaching a keyboard, or sliding out a built-in one. These are not as radical an idea as Motorola’s Atrix, and so may have a more limited appeal, but conversely may be more practical.

The history of the device market has seemed to go through a cycle of moving from single-function to multi-function devices. Not that long ago people were carrying separate mobile phones, PDAs and MP3 players. Then a few years ago all of those functions became melded into one device with the advent of the iPhone and other smartphones. With the rise of the tablet, we seem to be back into a multi-device mode. I usually carry both a phone and a tablet, and sometimes a kindle as well. So are we about to enter into another era of device consolidation? Or will we see devices becoming more specialised and people carrying more than one?

I think you would need to be an inveterate gambler to make a definitive pronouncement either way. One thing is for sure and that is whichever way the device market goes it will be driven by several underlying trends that are evident now, mobility and convenience:

  • People expect to be able to do much more whilst mobile than ever before, and this propensity will only increase.
  • People expect their devices to enable their lives rather than hinder them. They want devices to do more than they ever have, and to adapt to their lifestyles, rather than having to adapt lifestyles to the constraints of devices.

What this means for the enterprise IT professional is that whichever way devices end up going we will need to enable mobile working (for our own organisation’s employees) and mobile interactions (with customers and partners) and we will need to support a range of working styles and the kinds of devices that make this possible.

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