Should you consolidate all your technology into one device?

Samsung Omnia
The Samsung Omnia wowed crowds at the 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.  See more cell phone pictures.
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

What gadgets do you take with you when you go on a trip? If you're a true tech-head, you might bring along a cell phone, a digital camera, a radio, a camcorder, a GPS receiver, an MP3 player and maybe a portable video game device. If you can't go a day without watching your favorite shows, you might also pack a small television on top of everything else. And we haven't even touched the subject of portable computers!

But what if you could wrap all of those gadgets into a single device? These devices could be multi-functional and could help you save space while you pack for a trip. Why carry eight gadgets when one does everything you need?


We call the trend of multiple devices coalescing into a single form factor convergence. If you take a close look at the tech market, you'll see that many devices now incorporate functions traditionally performed by other gadgets. Cell phones are a good example -- manufacturers began adding digital cameras to cell phones and consumers responded with enthusiasm. Before long, you could find cell phones that could take photos, play MP3 files and even surf the Web.

Now that smartphones have a foothold in the consumer market, you can find devices like the Samsung Omnia that incorporate a camera, a GPS receiver, WiFi connectivity and other features. And many smartphone operating system designers allow third-party developers to create applications that further extend the functionality of the phones.

Meanwhile, netbooks are becoming more popular, too. Netbooks are light, portable computers that don't have a very powerful processor or a lot of storage space. Instead, netbook users access services on the Web and let remote computers do all the heavy lifting. Some netbooks now incorporate GPS receivers, webcams and other advanced features. A few netbooks running on Google's Android operating system -- originally designed for smartphones and other mobile devices -- may soon hit the market. They aren't as portable or convenient as smartphones, but they have larger screens and are a little easier to use if you need to do some moderate computing.

Next, let's take a quick look at the pros and cons of consolidating all your devices into a single form factor.



Pros and Cons to Consolidating Gadgets

The most obvious advantage to consolidating your devices into a single gadget is convenience. You don't have to pack, unpack and manage multiple devices whenever you go on a trip. And if it's a device you always have with you, you never have to worry about missing the opportunity to capture a special moment because you left your camera behind.

Also, with a single device, you only have one battery to worry about. You don't need to remember if your digital camera has a full charge or if your GPS receiver is about to die. With one device, you know where you stand at any given time. And as a bonus, you only have to bring along one battery charger.


Another nice perk is that many of these devices allow you to accomplish tasks that traditionally would require several steps. For example, with a standard MP3 player, you would have to download content on a computer. Then, you would sync your MP3 player with your computer and transfer files. But now, with many smartphones, you can search for content, purchase it, download and install it without ever having to connect to another device.

So what are the downsides? A big one is that if you lose or break the device, you've lost everything. If you only carry a single device around, you have no redundancy. It's bad enough if one device fails you, but if you rely on that gadget to do everything you're really out of luck. And if a thief manages to steal your device, they get everything that comes with it. That could include sensitive files or other important information.

Another problem is that most devices do a few things really well and then aren't as good at performing other functions. While different devices may be converging toward a single form factor, each path has different strengths. For example, most cell phones don't have cameras that are as good as a high-end digital camera.

Finally, storage can be an issue. If you use one device to store images, applications, music, video and other files, you're going to run out of storage space pretty quickly. You might be able to extend that with smart cards or flash drives but storage on the device itself will run out fairly quickly.

We're not quite at the point where we can consolidate all our gadgets into one device and expect the best results. But at the rate technology evolves, it may not be long before we carry an all-in-one wonder gadget.

Learn more about gadgets and gizmos through the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Murphy, Chris. "Netbooks vs. Smartphones." InformationWeek. March 31, 2009. (April 13, 2009)
  • Oppenheim, Richard. "Is That a Computer in Your Pocket?" Searcher. February 2009. Vol. 17, Issue 2. pp. 12-54.
  • Scheck, Justin and Nick Wingfield. "In Challenge to Microsoft, PC Makers Test Laptops Running Google Software." Wall Street Journal. April 1, 2009. (April 13, 2009)
  • Wahl, Andrew. "Your next computer?" Canadian Business. Feb. 2009, Vol. 82, Issue 2. p. 28.