Is Device Convergence a Good Thing?

June 23rd, 2010 4 Comments

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.

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.

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4 Responses to “Is Device Convergence a Good Thing?”

  1. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    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. Jake Says:

    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. joel garry Says:

    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. Jake Says:

    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.

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