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Summary:

Mobile devices are surely improving. Cameras in phones are replacing point and shoots, while small tablets offer features that once were the realm of laptops. While that sounds great, am I the only one getting weighed down with more mobile gadgets, defeating the purpose of mobility?

tab-vs-ipad

Yesterday, at our Net:Work event, Evan Kaplan from iPass spoke about the mobile workforce, and one phrase stuck me: Kaplan mentioned the concept of a new “hardware stack” in mobility. For the enterprise, that stack is composed of a phone, tablet and laptop. As both a member of the “mobilocracy,” or place-shifted workers, and a gadget-loving consumer, I can’t help but have this reaction to the hardware stack: “Just three devices? I wish!”

It’s almost counter-intuitive to the concept of mobility, but I find that I’m carrying more devices than ever, even as both hardware and software continue to improve. When I’m not toting numerous devices, I’m actually spending more time deciding which devices to bring and which are staying home. Granted, I could be an outlier; since I cover the mobile device scene for a living, there’s a plethora of laptops and phones to choose from, not to mention a MiFi, two cameras, a pair of wireless keyboards, an iPad and more.

Some of my gadgets have been replaced over time thanks to converged functionality. For example, I sold an Amazon Kindle 2 after buying my iPad; a few days of enjoying my Kindle books on the Apple tablet convinced me that I no longer needed my Kindle. That tradeoff made sense, and while not everyone would have made the same decision, it did reduce my mobile device load by one piece of hardware. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I found myself last night considering the purchase of a Galaxy Tab. Samsung has quickly sold one million of these popular 7-inch Android tablets.

Why would I buy one when I already have an Apple iPad? The reason actually applies to all of my devices: no one device fully takes the place of another because of compromises in functionality. Smartphones haven’t replaced laptops, and tablets don’t take the place of either, for example. Instead, as features are improving across all devices, form factors are evolving, which means we have more device choices for use in different contexts and locations.

My consideration of the Galaxy Tab is a perfect example: It appeals to me because it’s lighter and smaller than my iPad, but still offers much of the same functionality. That means I’m more likely to travel with the Tab, while my iPad is better suited — for me, anyway — around the house in places I don’t want to use a traditional computer: the couch, in bed, etc…. Of course, I’m heavily invested in iOS apps, so due to the “app lock in” costs, I’m not likely to trade in my iPad for the Tab!

I face a similar challenge when it comes to leaving the house with a camera. You wouldn’t think so, because the camera is the perfect poster child for device convergence: point and shoots are quickly fading in popularity due to improved smartphone cameras. In fact, the New York Times recently reported an 18 percent decline in the sales of point and shoots since 2008, largely due to phones with solid cameras. But when I cover the Consumer Electronics Show next month, readers won’t want to see marginal, camera phone pictures; they’ll want high-quality images and videos. I have to balance mobility with functionality.

I have an excellent DSLR in my Canon T1i, but there’s a problem: That camera is too bulky and heavy to effectively navigate the sea of attendees at CES. If that’s the case (and it is, given my past experience) and a smartphone camera just won’t do, what do I do? You guessed it: I just added a superb point and shoot to my device collection, the Canon S95, which fits in a pocket. So now I have yet another device to either carry or choose from, not just because of functionality, but because of form, weight and other factors.

Amid continuing advances in technology, one theorem still holds true for mobile devices: Every single one of them is a product of compromise. Want your laptop to run longer? That can be done, but you’ll either have to give up processing power or be stuck carrying an extended battery. Gotta have your latest videos filmed in 1080p? You’re not doing that on a smartphone yet, so you’ll need to tote a separate camera.

Devices are getting better, and everything is moving away from the desktop as consumers want to enjoy apps and services on the go. But for some reason, I feel like all of the improvements in mobiles are just weighing me down. Put another way: My mobile needs used to be met with a laptop and a phone. Now my hardware stack is getting so big I can’t carry it all. Am I alone in the quest for the perfect set of just a few gadgets that can really everything I need?

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  1. Life is hard ;)

  2. The right tool for the job, but your toolbox is only so big.

    I make do with an iPhone, DMC-ZS3 and an iPad when on the move, and add a laptop (MBP) for the remainder of my work… not sure why you need a T1i (I have a DSLR but it’s only for personal stuff).

    If I were more moneyed I’d consider replacing the ZS3 with a 4/3 lens camera.

  3. Everything depends on what you need it for, but when the emphasis is mobility, two devices beats four! Why carry a keyboard, slate, mifi and smartphone when just a smartphone and netbook would perform the same yet be easier to carry? When my notebook is overkill, I use a netbook, and the same when going with my smartphone.

    In my particular case, I carry a mifi along because I use prepaid voice on my smartphone, so the mifi provides data for three of my devices. Do I carry a separate camera? No, because the camera on my smartphone is adequate for posting images on the web. Were I authoring blu-ray discs, however, a dedicated 1080p camera would be my main tool.

    There comes a point, however, where having multiple devices of the same type is simply excessive. I can understand having a notebook/netbook/smartphone trio. But when people complain that they MUST HAVE 2 notebooks, 2 netbooks, 2 slates and 2 smartphones, the question comes to my mind – what the hell is this guy doing?

  4. Richard Garrett Friday, December 10, 2010

    Mostly, when I’m on the road, I just need an 11 month old Droid (I tried the Samsung Fascinate but went back). Camera is adequate, it plays video and audio well enough and with LogMeIn I can access my Mac. K-9, SMS, Tweetcaster and Gmail keep me in touch. As a bonus, the Kindle app works well, its got a flashlight and the CardioTrainer app rounds out my needs. Of course I have to pack the charger, too. My traveling needs are reduced from pounds to ounces to apps and bytes! Of course at home I have the Mac, an iPad, too many iPods to count, a camera and an Acer Aspire One.

  5. I remember when I had two laptops, two netbooks, a smartphone, multiple dumb phones, and three pmps. Sadly, I sold the netbooks , got rid of the dumb phones, and gave away my older laptop. I now have one laptop and one smartphone. I kept my pmps though. :)

    I recently got an IPad and an Apple Case, and I always travel with those. So, yeah. Basically my gear bag’s been cut by more than half, and I can’t say I miss the old stuff.

    Have you planned out your CES gear, or are you saving that for your annual post? ;)

    1. I’m thinking my CES gear will be minimal this year: MB Air and Canon S95, along with my Nexus One phone, of course. N1 works as a 3G hotspot, so no need for the usual MiFi toting. Canon S95 does nice 720p video to SD card in .mov format which I can just pop into the Air. I edited an HD vid on the Air last week and it was no slower to encode than the MB that it replaced, so I’m good – and LIGHT – this year. :)

      1. That’s great! I still want the annual post though, along with pics. And don’t forget to tell us what gear bag your using. :D

  6. I think I have come up with a perfect solution. 7 inch tablet(Samsung galaxy tab) with a 13 inch laptop(Toshiba portege r705). Tab fits in my pocket most of the time so its no issue…..it can replace a smart phone with always on internt with voip. I do have a tiny featured phone for a scenario where internet is not available. I dont see how 10 inch tablet fits into anyone’s picture? if you are going with 10 inch you might as well go with 13 inch full featured laptop. if you want mobility, go with 7 inch….it fits in your pocket!

  7. Same here! I have 2 mobile phones with different carriers…I just got an iPad but I found myself with my laptop and iPad yesterday because some things are still best done with a laptop. And when I travel out of the country, it’s always a whole discourse on which gadgets to bring! And we thought the gadgets have made our lives simpler? Before it’s just a notebook, pen and a paperback!

  8. I carry a nexus one in my pocket and a spare battery if I’m going to be away from outlets for more than 12 hours. The right software and a bit of practice with the virtual keyboard and why do you need to carry around all that expensive electronic gear?? If I’m away from home for an extended period (where there is a laptop), I do have a folding keyboard for the nexus. Simplicity and less consumption of gadgets (and everything else for that matter) might be an option for you to consider.

  9. Near to loose mobility, since the weight is up to 15 lbs !!!

    For me, just one iPhone (jailbreak for 3G Tethering), and one iPad Wi-Fi only (jailbreaked for SBSettings, Veency, Bacgrounder and Swap file)…

    And a big Windows 7 station for HD video editing and others heavy stuffs…

    Best regards.

  10. I think the rich multi-verse of devices a good thing, esp from the stand point of security. I know some people seem to live for the hack, not that I do anything anyone would want to know about, but the diversity spreads the risk around.

    Just look at the emergence of the different OS’s now. Back in the day when winblows was king. Everyone shared it’s vulnerabilities. I think the same thing would happened if we all rushed to the same device.

    Long live the multi-verse!!

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