DevicesA ‘pocket sized’ computing device has been rooted in the imaginations of science fiction writers and readers for as long as I can remember.  These devices have done everything imaginable.  They have been communicators, navigators, medical diagnosticians, entertainers, locating beacons, mathematicians, knowledge repositories and I am sure there are countless other iterations that have existed over the years.  Science fiction has always been a hot bed of tech ideas.  And today’s smart phones and tablets are prime examples of ‘Life imitating art’.

However I feel that the big players may be missing the boat in some respects.  For the past few years, I have been analyzing the value of the various devices in this new fragmented world of personal computing.  As always, different users have different needs.  We are seeing many users throughout the world who feel their smart phones are sufficient.  Others have decided a tablet fits all of their needs.  But both of these users would probably find themselves, admittedly or not, squarely into the camp of ‘the consumer’ when it comes to the services available on these devices.  The content creators, while they may love their tablets and smart phones, typically still rely on a laptop or desktop computer to work on their craft (dual 24″ monitors are hard to compete with when it comes to doing actual work).

So what is it that limits these devices to being merely consumption devices?  They are those that would disagree with me who say these devices can do it all.  I have heard their arguments and examples in countless forms.  But in all honesty, their proofs come across to me as functional compromises to help justify owning the device.  In almost every instance, the larger screen, the physical keyboard and the mouse/trackball are still much more efficient for the task at hand.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I think these devices have their place and can be extremely useful and convenient for many tasks, both professional and casual.   And I have seen some creative apps that do a lot with limited controls.  However depending on what you do, these devices probably shouldn’t be a replacement for all your computing needs.

So let’s analyze what the limiting factors could be.  In all reality it doesn’t seem to be the processing power.  My current phone and tablet both have more processing power and similar storage to my desktop from eight or ten years ago.  I was pretty productive on that machine.  So when you consider the quad core devices that have come out recently or are coming out soon, the processing power is most than sufficient for a very large percent of the content creators out there.

So it’s not the power of the devices.  The logical option would be to blame it on the software, the OS and the apps.  I would say that in our current market, we would be partially correct.  But the software can easily, or quickly, be addressed—relatively speaking.  But fixing the software is definitely part of the solution (to be discussed later).

I think it’s obvious that the largest limitation is the form factor itself.  Some form factors, no matter how much we like them, just shouldn’t be used for some tasks.  You don’t use a Prius to haul a boat.  Which means the most efficient solution for now is to just buy multiple devices for each need.  But that option does not scale well for the majority of us.  Plus there are the added annoyances that arise from having to maintain multiple devices and their respective environments.

First you need to manage/install you favorite apps on all your different devices.  Remember installing Angry Birds on your new tablet only to realize you had to solve all those levels again?  Also, if you like to customize your experience, you now need to maintain that on each device.  And then there are the files.  To take advantage of all of your device’s strengths for the life-cycle of a particular file, you need to synchronize that file to all of those devices.  The cloud can help immensely here, but it still requires some level of expertise and knowledge to make it work smoothly.

So what is the solution?  Well I do see hints of many of the larger companies heading in the right direction.  But there are aspects of their published strategies that cause me some concern.  It may take them too long to get to where we need to be.  This may be an opportunity for a few of the smaller guys to make a name for themselves.

Next: Unified Personal Computing – Consumer’s Needs