This article is not intended as a boast or for showing off. It is just an illustration of how much electronics has gone portable in recent years, what the utility of the individual devices is and how much each device is specialised and how much their functionality overlaps. What happens in this space is fundamental for the future of gaming.
- Nokia 6300 phone. I have always preferred the Nokia phone brand for its nice user interface. The 6300 is one of those classic Nokia phones with a perfect balance of features. I keep it turned off a lot because I don’t like intrusions, so it is mainly used for outgoing calls. I have looked at various smart phones and had a Blackberry for a while but that was even worse for impinging on my karma. The replacement for the 6300 could well be the HTC Magic, the first smartphone that I am warming to. But you do pay a price in bulk for the added utility.
- Nintendo DS Lite portable video game console. With a few classic titles. A brilliant concept, well executed. They could have incorporated far more utility but chose not to so as to keep the price down.
- Canon IXUS 950 IS digital camera. Absolutely brilliant package of technology with a great lens, image stabilisation, face recognition etc. This is the mobile device that I use most, far more than my mobile phone.
- Dell Latitude laptop. I bought this with good intentions but never got into using it. It just didn’t bring enough features and benefits into my life for the cost of lugging it around.
- Acer Aspire One Netbook. With 7,800 mAh “all day” battery. What a brilliant device. Connection to the sum of human knowledge anywhere I choose to take it, with a near full sized keyboard and display. Most software I use is in the cloud so this gives me full access.
- Canon FS100 video camera. Another brilliant device, small and light it is very portable but it has a great lens and image stabilisation. Recording onto SD cards is the only way to go and gives loads of benefits over all other potential recording media. This is a very well resolved piece of technology that works exceedingly well.
- Apple iPod classic 60GB. You need to record at a minimum of 192 Kbps instead of the standard 128 Kbps and replace the standards earphones to get anything approaching listenable sound quality, but most users don’t notice, they are too taken in by the whole iPod experience which is an immense triumph of marketing. These devices have just enough functionality to do their job and no more, but the way it is done is so slick that technically better competitors are massively outsold.
- Casio fx-991 ES calculator. This non programmable, non graphics calculator is amazingly cheap. And amazingly powerful. If you haven’t used a full featured calculator for a while this will shock you with its capabilities and ease of use.
- Palm. I wasted some money when these were a fad. Once again I never got into using it and it is gathering dust somewhere. A ball pen and paper are massively better.
- Various electronic watches. I have bought a number of these. But 99.9% of the time I wear a watch with cogs and a spring in it. This may be heavier and less accurate but the aesthetic qualities more than compensate.
Obviously I don’t take all of these devices everywhere with me all of the time! So it is mix and match. For instance yesterday I went to Kew Gardens to see the orchids and took four devices with me. The netbook, phone and both cameras. And here I can illustrate a very important point. All four of these devices are capable of recording video yet I only used one of them for this job, the capability of the dedicated video camera being massively greater than the video capabilities of the three other devices. And so it is with all my mobile devices (except the Dell and the Palm). They are each so much better at their prime task that their secondary tasks never come into play.
We are obviously headed for something approaching a universal portable electronic device. Possibly a touch screen device sized somewhere between an iPhone and a netbook. But we are not there yet because such a device needs to be world class in every one of its capabilities. So the closest we have got is integrating MP3 with phones, which is very easy to do. And putting games onto phones and MP3 players which is nice for our industry even if the games are neutered by the interface limitations.
For me the device that would have the most utility would be a Canon Ixus 950IS with a Nokia 6300 integrated into it. Technologically this would be a doddle to do. The Sony Ericsson K850i and the Nokia N95 both got tantalisingly close but did not go that extra mile to be world class at everything.
So the market for portable electronic devices is a jumbled up mess because we are currently on a very steep evolutionary slope. The whole market is changing at immense speed and nobody, not even Steve Jobs, knows where it is going. My guess is that the lead will come from the mobile telephone industry because they have by far the biggest presence in the market. They make devices which are ubiquitous that they have constantly striven to add extra utility to. Hence Apple, Google and Microsoft moving into this area. Sony have been there for ages so the main absentee is Nintendo. How long can they stay out for?
There will always be a physical size under which a device is not convenient to use anymore, so I think a global convergence is not possible.
That being said, I am all for some merging and I can’t wait for a reasonably priced cellphone/camcorder/GPS of decent quality.
Random thought: Surely if there were very slim, a4 sized tablet devices that we used for office work instead of our usual notepads/binders, and used a stilus on this, it had web access aswell as office software built in – this would lead us to an almost perfect paperless office! Just like in the classic star trek episodes however, maybe not a consumer killer app unless this is the evolution of a netbook.
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