Do we really need an "all-in-one" gadget?

Do we really need an "all-in-one" gadget?

Summary: You know, not a day goes by when I don’t come across some marketing hyperbole that tries to convince me that some new wonder gadget will replace some or all of the existing gadget in my life. A cellphone that’ll double as my MP3 player and digital watch. A PDA that will replace my notebook (both dead-tree and electronic). A GPS receiver that will handle my digital media and transform in-car entertainment forever. But are they any good?

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TOPICS: Hardware
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You know, not a day goes by when I don’t come across some marketing hyperbole that tries to convince me that some new wonder gadget will replace some or all of the existing gadget in my life.  A cellphone that’ll double as my MP3 player and digital watch.  A PDA that will replace my notebook (both dead-tree and electronic).  A GPS receiver that will handle my digital media and transform in-car entertainment forever. 

These gadgets all seem to have one thing in common – they never seem to deliver on the promise of reducing the number of gadgets I need to carry to fulfill daily tasks.  Why?

I’m always wary of any gadget that claims to do too much.  As nice as it would be to have a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/MP3 player/PDA/chronometer/exercise assistant/tricorder, the gadget ultimately ends up being a disappointment for one very basic reason.  When I buy just one of those devices I have an enormous range of choices open to me.  If you just think about GPS receivers for a moment (a massive market that’s changing a such a rate that it makes the PC market seem almost stagnant), you have a bewildering array of brands and models to choose from.  Garmin, Magellan, TomTom are at the popular end of the market and have a broad range of devices.  When you add to this GPS receivers from manufacturers such as Haicom you end up with a pool consisting of hundreds of devices to choose from.  You can pick the GPS receiver that exactly matches the features you want and the price you’re willing to pay.

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So where does this leave your wrist-mounted GPS receiver/MP3 player/PDA/chronometer/exercise assistant/tricorder?  It leaves you with one choice of GPS that may or may not be suited to your needs.  Factor in all the other functions that the device caters for and what you have is a list of compromises all the way.  This is why the “all in one” wonder gadgets always sound compelling on paper but fail to satisfy in real life.  Consumers have a bewildering array of choices available to them, and it’s impossible to offer this level of choice in a multi-function gadget.

When you look at the market leading gadgets out there, what you notice is that almost all of them have one thing in common – they do one thing and do that well.  Good examples of this are iPod and GPS receivers such as the Garmin eTrex and the in-car models from Garmin and TomTom.  Here the manufacturers have put a lot of research, time and effort into developing and refining a the hardware to do one job, and do that one well.  This is what made the Sony Walkman a hit and then the Apple iPod.  When I look at the Apple iPhone (admittedly, there’s not a lot of information available right now) I see an “all in one” gadget that screams “compromise” and which will have serious shortcomings that not even the “i” prefix will be able to overcome.

What are your thoughts on “all in one” gadgets?  Do you look forward to the day when you can throw away your cellphone, MP3 player, GPS receiver and PDA and replace them with a single gadget?  Have you tried to do this already?  What were your experiences?

Topic: Hardware

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3 comments
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  • good or bad irrelevant

    Good or bad is (unfortunately?) irrelevant .. competitive pressure drives the consumer electronics supply chain - chips, boxes, OEMs - to integrate more and compete for marketshare. Consumers will determine which combinations survive.
    gary@...
  • Concept versus reality

    Forget the choices in the article--what really matters is how well the device works, how easy is it to use, how well does it fulfill its function. When your device has one function, it's easy to design an interface that works well. It's easy to make it function as the user wants it to function. When you start cramming two or more of those things together, you start making sacrifices, both to the interface and to functionality. Example--digital cameras are great. Simple cel phones are great. Put a camera on a cel phone and you either end up with a huge cel phone or a camera with a tiny lens that stinks.

    The concept of a convergence device is a great one--we'd all love to carry around one do-it-all device. The reality is where things fall apart.
    tic swayback
  • RE: Do we really need an

    It depends on the device, and how user friendly it is. Personally, I have had a great experience with TomTom. I used the ONE and loved it-- it was extremely easy to use and got me to where I was going without a problem. I am now looking into the XL-S that comes with text-to-speech technology, which calls out street names for you. I say if it makes your life easier, go for it.
    HSA56