Question: Will the future consist of people carrying a single device or multiple gadgets?
Arguments for one device
Students use it for everything. After reading this New York Times article on how mobile phones are used in South Korea, I'm astounded about the possibilities. Students are using their mobile phones for buying food tickets in the cafeteria, for paying the subway fare, sending virtual coupons for physical gifts, as the university ID card for swiping into the library, and so on. And all this is beyond the existing functionality of camera, internet, sms, location, etc.
Centre of innovation. Companies are extending mobile phones in innumerable ways in an effort to add more features and make new models. For example, Samsung has launched "Solar Guru E1107", a mobile phone that will get recharged via the solar panels on its back when you're outside. And it costs just Rs. 2799.
Alpha geeks extending Android. Brad Fitzpatrick got his Android-based phone to open his garage door automatically when he starts coming close to his house, Sony is making future walkmans based on Android, Canonical is making Android apps work on Ubuntu, and Android can even be inside your future washing machine. Alpha geeks are extending Android to do cool stuff (of course with hardware providing relevant functionality), and Android is becoming all-pervasive, which means the code could be reused across devices, which means there is a greater chance that all that functionality can be on one device.
TWIT says so. In TWIT Episode 193, Harry of Technologizer.com conjectured that "In 10 years, the devices of the day will be descendants of the iPhone and not descendents of the Mac."
Arguments for multiple devices
The problem with a single device is that they become a jack-of-all-master-of-none and quickly become difficult to use for non-teenagers.
There are many one-functionality devices that have come up in the past few years and people seem to love it:
- iPod for music
- Kindle for reading ebooks
- CrunchPad for internet browsing
- Peek for email
- MingleStick for business cards
- Leyio for sharing files in-person
- Pogoplug for sharing files from your external hard disk over the internet
- Fitbit for monitoring your health and exercise
This seems to be a tussle of hardware vs. software, for example, one-functionality devices vs. app stores.
In the end, I think whoever wins the usability battle will win the customers.