The Currently Mythical Unified Device

I often joke about the little technology pyramid I now bring on business and pleasure trips that includes: my netbook (replacing my laptop and providing good document editing and other work-related options, plus video watching), my Kindle (replacing a heavy stack of books and magazines), and my iPhone (enabling my social media habit, providing directions to unknown spots, relieving boredom, delivering instant info, and occasionally fielding a phone call). This little stack, if perennially charged, could keep me happy on a deserted, but wired island for quite some time. I’m connected, informed, and entertained.

Often these devices serve multiple purposes. I can surf the Web and access Web mail on the Kindle in a pinch, though it’s clumsy. I can open and edit documents on the iPhone, but would not want to do so regularly. Mostly on my iPhone, I text, tweet, try out apps, or use the GPS function that has saved me on numerous occasions. I still need all three devices in my pyramid to be comfortable on a trip, but the day is coming when a single device will meet all my needs. That device will become so important to me, I will likely customize it, secure it, and protect access to it, and me, like a zealot.

What happens when we begin to consume all, or the majority, of our online content, ad impressions, or other digital influences within a single device? It’s not tomorrow, even for early adopters, but we should be thinking about that day and planning for it.

Think about possible impacts, like:

  • The tantalizing data available across all the functions online. Who guards that? Who mines that? Will the ISPs or the wireless carriers have the keys to unlock a total personal profile?

  • Many functions I now access on my multiple devices aren’t currently commercialized in an obvious or intrusive way. Will that continue or will we see ads on everything?
  • What will be the “personal portal” application that connects these various functions and makes them usable and customizable in a single device?
  • Will we be opting out of tracking or advertising served? Limiting it or controlling it based on profile preferences? Will those choices impact our monthly access bill?
  • How will I dress this device up to reflect my personal style? What kind of carrying options will appear?
  • Will there be a choice of one tool in each functional category of the device, aka no choice at all? Or will you be able to mix and match options to roll into your own preferred options into a personal device?
  • Will micro and other payment options be a part of this device, to replace my wallet?
  • How would we make this device affordable and accessible for everyone?
  • Would it be fragile? If one function goes awry would you lose all functions?
  • When everything is one, can a person hold multiple identities or surf/participate anonymously?
  • How would you handle the constant software/program updates that would result? Would a utility pop up to handle that in sleep mode?
  • How would you guarantee a secure back up?
  • There are bound to be competitive models and leapfrogging advances, but what kind of barriers to switching would be involved in a device so fundamentally tied to your daily existence?
  • How will we protect this kind of device from malicious phishing or hacking? What happens if access is disrupted?
  • Do we have the wireless bandwidth and other infrastructure in place to support the rapid growth in usage that should follow wide adoption of such devices?
  • Will there be a backlash in some populations against this depth of access?
  • Would we allow children and teenagers to wield this kind of powerful device? Will it be a rite of passage akin to getting a driver’s license?

In the future, this device might also start my car, open my front door, alert me if Aunt Betty falls down, be a portable office, project on a screen for shared viewing, deliver instant news source, pay my bills, and manage my portfolio to my specifications. It will be a proxy for my life and contain significant personally identifiable information (PII).

I bet you’ve driven away from home or the store and found you left your wallet or cell phone behind and promptly turned around to retrieve it — in a panic. I have. I did so because of a feeling of discomfort and disconnectedness without my cell phone, or the terrifying prospect of the reported 700 hours necessary to untangle an identity theft. Imagine the powerful importance this device would take on, the new risks that would come with it, and the potential backlash that early efforts might suffer? Would they persevere? Would the early adopters report a significant enough benefit from a unified device to entice the marketplace response from both providers and consumers of these mythical beasts?

For now, I still need my little pyramid and if I can’t contain myself, I may be adding the Barnes & Noble eReader for its purported color, touch screen technology, and book-sharing capabilities. Here I go again. Before I’m done, I may own dozens of devices and be thrilled to trade them all in just so I can revert to a single charger. So, what is your must-have technology gadget?