Is Device Convergence a Good Thing?

Say hello to the SwissChamp XAVT.

I saw an ad for the Garminfone during the World Cup today.

It’s essentially just another Android phone, but focused on Garmin’s navigation rather than Google’s. I’d heard about its existence in the past, but never paid much attention.

This move makes sense for Garmin, but I wonder if consumers care. After all, Google’s Navigation app on Android is really good, and there are affordable options for iOS too.

I find the Garminfone intriguing because of what it represents, i.e. device convergence.

Think about all the tasks your smartphone can do and all the devices it replaces.

  • It’s a phone, and it send text messages.
  • It’s a digital camera.
  • It’s probably a video camera.
  • It’s likely a turn-by-turn GPS.
  • It’s a personal organizer and contact manager.
  • It’s a gaming console.
  • It’s probably an intertubes device.
  • It’s a digital music player.

About the only device it hasn’t replaced is the CD/DVD player, but that’s moot based on its capabilities as a digital multimedia and intertubes-capable device.

Your phone replaces at least six devices. I’m assuming the digital camera also shoots video, and the phone probably was also an organizer and contact manager. Flash back to 2000 in your mind to confirm.

From a convenience perspective, obviously, this is a good thing. No more need to travel with a bag full of gadgets and chargers.

But is it a good thing otherwise?

I don’t know. One presumably nice thing about separate devices was that each targeted a specific set of tasks. I had an interesting experience with the Google Navigation app on my Droid.

I was testing it out before Google IO for giggles between Pleasanton and San Francisco, and the battery died on the Bay Bridge. Good thing I knew where I was going.

I left Pleasanton with about 75% left, but without a charger, it ran down to empty in a matter of about 30 minutes.

That was the Droid, not the HTC EVO, whose battery woes are well-documented.

Yeah, I know about ways to squeeze more battery out of Android phones, but that’s poor usability. And you know it. Sure, I could carry a car charger, but would I need to for a regular old GPS?

I’ve never had a GPS, but we bought one for my mother-in-law and used it around here quite a bit. Several hours of driving on a full charge, but no hint of battery weakness.

And of course, it came with a car charger, which smartphones do not.

Singularity of design is a good thing. We can debate whether devices with one purpose are any good, e.g. my Sony video camera has some really bad UI, most digital cameras take better pictures than phone cameras, etc.

Even Apple won’t be able to make the iPhone and iPad do everything really well, but they’ll be pushed by competition to try.

Why? Because we’ll keep buying these uber-devices. Still, I wonder how much and what I’m sacrificing in the name of convenience.

And, for the record, running out of battery before reaching your destination is definitely not convenient.

Find the comments.




  1. Attractiveness of multi-function devices will vary from consumer to consumer, and even for an individual consumer for specific product lines. I like having a phone/texter/web browser/alarm clock, but would not want a watch that doubles as a calculator.

    One other aspect of multi-function devices is that it offers a way for companies like Garmin to enter new markets. Some people will be attracted to the Garminfone because of the Garmin brand. (As an Oracle employee, you certainly realize how a company can enhance its brand by pursuing new markets, although Oracle has technically not pursued a multi-function strategy to do so.) Perhaps this will allow Garmin to change its focus in such a way that the consumer of 2030 will wonder at the fact that Garmin USED TO only provide GPS. (Kind of like the company that used to be called “Apple Computer.”)

  2. Not sure what you're getting at, since I didn't ask about the business strategy. Garmin obviously sees value, and it makes sense for them. The strategy assumes the consumer wants a multi-function device, which also makes sense.

    This is a consumer question. You answered it for yourself as a yes from what I can tell.

  3. Device convergence good? Not always. Hardwired phones worked better. Now that I have a DVR, people have to fight over the single device that it works with, and various other input devices. I used to have a watch with a calculator (which I sometimes would even use). Then I had a watch that would read flashing computer screens to sync organizers and such. That got obsoleted by NT. Now my watch is hand-wound, transparent with cool visible gears. I rarely use any organizer software any more (not that I did ever, aside whatever work provides, and barely that). Why don't I use the time display on my phone? It's not on my wrist, and when it is around, it tends to be non-display to save battery. Why don't I use the browser on my phone? Too small, too slow, too sucky on battery, train websites/twitters lie, either explicitly or by omission (train fail 6 times in past week), games blow. I'm not looking forward to the reconfiguration of my newspaper with the web driven user input they've gotten. I saw a funny fail on my car touch screen satellite display, tried to take picture with my phone while stopped at light, flash washed it out, no time to fiddle with it.

    Overheard boss and netadmin talking about Opera browser fail and one of our web store apps, got a laugh mentioning my Wii uses Opera.

    At a graduation party for my kid this past weekend, several people commented on me having a turntable. I'd buy a vinyl to digital device, but no place to put it and no time to deal with it. The eight-track in my head has been running continuously for decades, anyways, I don't even care how quiet work is.

    Overheard a non-technical person at work freaking about her iPhone recording coordinates where she's taken pictures, that seems to be in the air all of a sudden after 2 years…

  4. That was a stream of consciousness dump 🙂

    I guess my thoughts are somewhat similar. I prefer device convergence that makes sense and works, which doesn't mean that the device needs to go everything. The problem is that as devices do more by default, people will use their capabilities, creating a false demand that rolls forward into future products and into competitors' products.

    Overall, it's not a good thing for thoughtful design.

  5. Hi Jake,
    My 2cents (4) years later.

    At the time, I jumped from cheapy (free) Nokia candy bar phone at $27/mo via ATT, the Canon El?, paper maps, iPod, and Gmail on the XP machine to the Garminfone and was ultra-satisfied to pay $27/mo for phone service via ATT and have GPS at all times, along with excellent accessories (car mount, belt clip, headphones), and the Wi-Fi for keeping myself up-to-date when needed.
    After Android support ended abruptly (Garmin Map support continues, free of charge, to this day), I struggled to find good Apps but made it through Spring of 2013 (Samsung Galaxy Note II was a dramatic improvement as well).

    To this day, my sister still uses the Garminfone @ $27/mo as her Honda Accord-dedicated GPS and 3G ATT phone service in NC!

    What a product in 2010 & still filling a niche thru Summer 2014!

    Jackemeyer, Tempe AZ

  6. @Jackemeyer: I had to reread the post and try to channel my, four-years-younger self to recall this. Honestly, I nearly marked this as spam, not many old posts get legit comments.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences w the Garminfone. Glad to hear it did right by you and continues to do right by your sister.

    Re. Garmin, I was shocked to hear they make wearables earlier this year. Ran into some folks at an HR conference, and they were wearing them, deployed by the company.

    So, good on Garmin for staying relevant in a market dominated by Titans.

    To the point about convergence, good enough seems to trump really good. Bummer for me is, I still carry a bag full of devices.

  7. @Jake: but is your bag full of devices lighter than it was 4 years ago? Right now, I have a small bag (literally, it’s a Clinique makeup bag) that contains: power cables for my two fitness wearables; a Tinke (allows u to measure “wellness” using your phone), the Narrative Clip camera, and a few cables whose use I have forgotten but I carry around anyway. Of course these aren’t my primary work devices, but they are the fun things that I play with.

    Roughly four years ago, the fun thing I was playing with was the iPad 1 (very heavy compared to tablets these days). And when I went to conferences and ran eyetracking sessions, I literally had to drag a 50lb case of equipment with me, along with my heavy Dell laptop and its brick battery. When you’re trudging through the Orlando Convention Center (largest convention center in the US, I believe) carrying roughly 60 lbs of gear, it’s a great workout, but not great for your back. Luckily I was younger back then. 😛

  8. @Joyce: Not by much, but yeah, it’s probably lighter, more cables, adapters and overall devices. Power is the big issue now. I carry a portable batter to keep my lightweight devices working.

  9. @Jake: Your point is loud & clear with that Timex example.

    (in-comment pseudo re-tweet):
    “To the point about convergence, good enough seems to trump really good. Bummer for me is, I still carry a bag full of devices.”

    So…what kind of bag do you like best?
    I prefer neoprene — it has “auto-adjust” capacity for ongoing purchases…

  10. And four years on:

    I bought a vinyl to digital ripper, did a few albums, rarely listen to them.

    Just got a Galaxy S5, great pix, larger than last phone so it doesn’t fit in my cupholders. First time I hooked it up to XP, it downloaded USB drivers, then I had to download some kies3 thing, which would never connect to phone. After numerous chats, mostly with scriptodroids, I finally found someone who seemed to know something about it. I let him on my PC and phone, he poked around, I could see he was going through what I did, and was starting to get somewhere I didn’t know about, then chat died (for sixth time, I think). Next chatterbox was a moron. Anyways, the conclusion seems to be Samsung lies about system requirements and doesn’t have working XP USB drivers. All I want is to see phone as a device so I can copy pix. Now I have to find some app, or use wife’s computer, where it works, but decided to install a tablet app?!

    By the way, don’t forget to disallow unsigned resource sharing and debugging after mysterious people on the intertubes have their way with your phone.

    Things are getting worse. But at least the battery lasts a couple of days.

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