iPad, iPhone, notebook, Netbook: A gadget glut?

Just the right number of gadgets and computers can enhance productivity, but there is a tipping point when too many gadgets hinder rather than help productivity.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
2 min read

What is the tipping point for having too many gadgets? Well, it depends.

MacBook, iPad 3G, iPhone 3GS, and Windows laptop. The 'essential' entourage that travels with me. How many is too many?
MacBook, iPad 3G, iPhone 3GS, and Windows laptop. The 'essential' entourage that travels with me. How many is too many? Brooke Crothers

First, let me count the ways I can be connected: a couple of MacBooks, an iPad 3G, an iPhone 3GS, an old HP tower, and, if I need it, a BlackBerry Storm 2 (though Wi-Fi access only for the BlackBerry, as I recently discontinued service). That covers most of what I use everyday. (And I know people that add a Netbook to a similar mix of devices.)

Of course, I got to this state of excess voluntarily. Nobody held a gun to my head. That said, on most days--in myriad ways I won't go into here--this entourage of devices enhances productivity and sustains the computer-related hobbies I have.

But on the bad days it's get-thee-to-an-IT-department--at least, that's the feeling. Compounding glitches can hit critical mass in minutes.

Does the following, or a variation of the theme, sound familiar? The Internet connection goes south, freezing the browser and the 15 or so tabs that are open. And the Windows machine is pestering you about a massive critical update while a message is telling you it can't connect to the printer. The wireless printer disconnects inexplicably. Meanwhile, iTunes crashes on the iPhone. And the iPad 3G runs out of juice just when you need it. Oh, and the cable guy (in this case, the AT&T IP guy) is knocking on the door because he wants to check the fiber-to-the-node connection at your house.

And this brings us to the iPad. That is the X factor that didn't exist before. So, is the iPad the tipping point? I would say no. The iPad is actually relatively innocuous, I think. While a Windows machine can be a ticking time bomb of crash-happy applications requiring--depending on how bloated the PC is--user oversight to keep things from exploding, the iPad, in my experience, has little overhead (beyond charging the battery).

You don't need an IT guy to show you how to transfer photos to your iPad. You do need (or, in my case, would like to have) an IT guy to get you out of a crash loop that occurs when you start up a particular application in Windows Vista. (One of my machines, by the way, still runs Windows Vista for reasons I won't go into here.)

So, the gadget overload occurs when you have too many devices that require a disproportionate amount of time fixing, configuring, and updating rather than productive use.

Of course, a private gadget glut can occur, I suppose, by just having too many devices. In that case, simple things like trying to orchestrate the recharging of all of the batteries in laptops, smartphones, and cameras can trigger soul searching and philosophical quandaries about how necessary technology really is (not to mention the environmental impact).