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TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy poses the specialist vs. generalist question, as it relates to mobile devices. It’s an issue we’ve raised here before: Despite improving smartphone market penetration and quality standards, are they hybrid plays that lose quality in the many functions they are trying to cram into one device?

From TechCrunch:

“It seems the closer the industry gets to this elusive all-in-one promise, the more they disappoint. It’s a cycle we’ve seen over and over again in technology whether in hardware, enterprise software, or the Web. There’s an inexplicable tension between simplicity/reliability and doing it all. Think about it: Our phones now include cameras, video, email, instant message, music, the Web, games. But as the list of features on any one device gets longer, most people I know are carrying more devices than ever, not fewer.”

Many good examples are given of more single-track devices that do one thing and do it well — much better than their smartphones challengers. These include the Flip Camera, Kindle, iPod Touch, and Peek email reader. It’s an interesting take and is contrary to all  the market and media excitement around smartphones (including that seen on this blog).

It’s also similar to thoughts I’ve been having about the smartphone versus the netbook. Will it make more sense for consumers to carry a wireless network-connected netbook for Web search and a “dumb phone” for making calls? Carriers could bundle the data plan for one with the voice plan for the other (not to mention bundling home broadband, telephone and IPTV).

“Device convergence” is a buzzword we hear more and more: Maybe things will move in the opposite direction. There is a lot of shifting consumer behavior in the mobile world at the moment, and this will be a moving target. In the meantime, check out this video from NBC’s Press:Here, in which Peek mobile (e-mail reader) tries to make a case for device divergence.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Just because a device/program *can* do something doesn’t mean it does it well, or best. Video captured with your cell phone is okay for but not okay for professional-looking work. My iPhone is great for sharing a funny picture on Twitter but I wouldn’t use it to capture a trip to Budapest. I can browse the web from my iPhone or Blackberry (yes, I carry both), but I wouldn’t get 1/10th of the work done that I would with my laptop and a real keyboard.

    What devices you carry or what software/websites you use are (or should be) a function of your current needs and goals. I don’t carry a real camera around town, as my iPhone will suffice, but my camera is always in my purse when I’m traveling. I wouldn’t carry a Kindle for a bus ride — the iPhone is fine for such a short time — but I could see bringing it to the park.

  2. Good thoughts. The context and use case are key in each of those situations. But notice that though you’re choosing these individual devices based on what the situation calls for, you still own all of them. If this is representative of mainstream user behavior (and i believe it is), it has important implications for the consumer electronics and mobile device industries.

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