Friday, December 3, 2010

Specialized vs. Multi-purpose Tech Devices, Who Will Win?

I’ve been writing a lot about technology in recent weeks, as I am fascinated by the new markets that have blossomed in the past few years. We now crave technology that most of us never imagined could exist, and we are consuming that technology at a ferocious pace.

The market for handheld and portable electronics is sizzling hot.

Google says that searches on Android phones more than tripled in the first half of 2010, and on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Google VP Marissa Mayer said on October 5th that there are more searches on Android powered devices than online.

According to the Apple Insider, Apple expects iPads to outsell Macs in 2011, estimating 21 million iPads to be sold next year.

Amazon says that more Kindle e-books now outsell hardcover books.

Voice, music, video, print – we have so many choices on how to consume data, and these choices are likely to continue to evolve at a very speedy pace.

Of course consumption is made possible by affordability. Today it’s possible to purchase a smart phone, a tablet, an e-reader, and an MP3 player for less than half of what I paid for my first personal computer in 1984. And consumption is made practical by portability. I can carry them all around in a handbag.

We can choose between dedicated devices that are specialized for a single task such as book reading or music, or we can buy a device that does it all. It’s the age-old question that we have seen in the server industry for decades with the debate between mainframes versus distributed/dedicated servers/blades: Do I buy individual devices that are truly great at one thing? Or do I go with a single device that meets all my needs, but is not optimized for a single task?

Nowhere has the debate between specialized device versus multi-purpose device been clearer than in the e-book market. The specialized devices (such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook) are optimized for what they do, but now readers also have options to read on their smart phones (such as the Motorola Droid or Apple iPhones) or tablet computers (such as the iPad).

Who will win?

I think both can win. The market for both specialized technology devices and multi-purpose technology devices will go nowhere but up. I’m not likely to take an iPad to the gym to listen to music while I’m on the elliptical machine; I’ll use an iPod Nano for that. On the other hand, if I’m traveling or on-the-go, a tablet or a multi-purpose smart phone rules.

Technology manufacturers will be best served by focusing on what they do best. For the dedicated device manufacturer, the goal is excellence, improved user-experience, and reduced cost. For the multi-purpose devices it all about the applications, operating systems optimized for multi-tasking, and – you guessed it – reduced cost.

Your turn – what’s your take on portable technology devices?


Anonymous said...

Trust you had a good thanksgiving.

Quote - I can carry them all around in a handbag.

Thought for Xmas gifts for the men in your life - a man-bag for them to carry their "electronic toys".
Alternatively for those of us in colder climes - a "vest" with some sensible sized pockets.

My choice for electronic toys is driven by the simplest user interface to get to the function I need. Hence my MP3 player and cell phone are incredibly old and dumb. The other half of my brain is on a net-book - sensible size screen.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'd love to have an ereader, so I'm hoping for Santa to come through. The problem is I don't know which I'd prefer. I like the size of the Kindle and Nook, but the other advantages of the iPad. If Santa decides, then I don't have to! I don't have a smart phone, just a cell with a camera.

Colette said...

Anonymous, I do think the trick is to balance capability/function with ease of portability. My husband usually carries a backpack when we are on the go -- a smaller size bag would be a good idea.

Carol, I hope Santa brings you something really nice!! I don't really think of the iPad as an e-reader, yet I am lusting after one.

Meg at the Members Lounge said...

I love my Kindle! I am an avid reader, and I love being able to download a book from anywhere! Not to mention traveling, the gym, waiting in a dr's office - the Kindle makes it so pleasant!

Anon, if it helps, I believe the Kindle is much lighter than the Nook. That's a plus for me not to tote extra weight around.

Colette said...

Meg, I agree that weight (and size) matters. I like to be able to carry around my high-tech gear without having to lug it. And yes, the Kindle is great -- weighs about the same as a paperback.

Liz Fichera said...

Cost, portability, and size are the most important factors for me. Once that trifecta is reached on a device, I'm willing to give it a go. I think the iPad comes close, but it is still too big and clunky and a tiny bit expensive. I'd rather read books on my e-reader than my iPad. That said, my e-reader is too small for me to use as a keyboard, at least for long stretches of writing. I need something in-between. Like the perfect porridge. :-)

Colette said...

Liz, I am optimistic that the new iPad they are talking about launching next year just might be the best of all worlds. We will see.