Why gadget convergence doesn't happen

The idea that we'll ever have a single handheld device that makes calls flawlessly around the world, doubles doubles as a music player, and triples as a fully functioning computer: a myth.

Given that I travel a fair bit, I'm personally interested in the evolution of the devices that we carry with us on the road.

On the one hand, I don't want to be a parody of Dilbert, carrying a bag full of gadgets that have to be charged, synchronized, and corralled. On the other hand, I'm inclined to agree with this statement from a column by travel writer Joe Brancatelli:

And where, I wonder, is my convergence machine, the one that makes calls flawlessly around the world, doubles as my music play, triples as a fully functioning portable computer, and fits in my pocket?

Forget it, says (Phil) Baker, (columnist, author, and inventor of the folding travel keyboard).

"One device will not be sufficient," he says. "We will continue to carry both a pocketable smartphone and a lightweight notebook for serious computing. Trying to combine both in a single device is like combining a toaster and microwave."

I suspect that many of us still carry biases from the computing days of yore, when the base components of computers were expensive. As a result, we tend to bias our thinking toward a few general-purpose devices rather than a few specialized ones.

One such specialization is clearly pocketability. There are many functional compromises, once you drop below a more or less full-size keyboard and screen. On the other hand, there's a major mobility step function between something that fits in a pocket and something that fits in a backpack or briefcase.

And even this divide isn't the whole story. Specialized devices will continue to be better at doing specialized things. They may not do them better enough for the casual user, but if you're really dedicated to gaming, reading, or photography, a Nintendo DS, a Kindle 2, or a digital SLR, respectively, may well be worth the extra cash and the extra clutter.

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