FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, July 09, 2004

Do we really want "killer devices"?

Nova Spivack writes in his emerging technology blog Minding the Planet that he would like to see a device that combines (as he puts it):

- Cell phone
- Email (Blackberry pager style) & PIM (Palm Desktop)
- iPod MP3 player
- Digital camera (stills or short videos)
- e-Wallet (all my credit/debit cards on a chip, securely protected)
- LCD for video/still images and text
- Broadband wireless Internet
- Bluetooth, and Bluetooth earbud/mic
- Java OS so I can download and run stuff
- Laser gun (OK, OK, had to throw that in)
- AM/FM radio receiver
- Retinal or fingerprint scanner or some other built-in biometric security so only I can use it
- Bar code reader (would be useful to have -- would enable me to scan items that I want to price compare or remember for later)

This begs the question of how exactly people use devices, and whether they really want "uber-devices" that can do anything and everything. With signs that PDA sales are declining, perhaps consumers are opting for simplicity. They'd rather have a cell phone that's nothing more or less than a damned good cell phone, and a calendar that's the best calendar they can get for their needs. Can a single device do everything as well as consumers will demand?

A one-size-fits-all approach to devices ignores the reality that different people use applications in different ways; an address book that's ideal for one person may be positively awful for another. Context is also important. For instance, during my normal workday, I use only the basic functions of my PDA. But when I travel, I use web browsing, applications for tracking expenses, and so forth.

Then, of course, there's the doomsday scenario: what if the all-in-one device is lost, damaged, malfunctioning or stolen?

Perhaps, with the growth in interconnectivity, we won't necessarily need a single, all-powerful device. Rather, our critical information will be device-independent. We can maintain one "virtal" phone book that our cell phone or home phone could access. Our MP3 files (all legally downloaded, of course) could be played through our laptops, home stereos, or car stereos.