I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about device modalities when it comes to personal computer use— a fancy way of saying: I’ve spent far too much time thinking about what to take on day trips, to meetings, or even to the office.
Compare 2012 to 2007 for a moment to see why: in 2007, I had one 15 inch Macbook Pro that weigh as much as a small boat anchor and cost $3,500. In 2012 I can use the same amount of dollars to buy an iPhone, an iPad mini, and iPad Retina, a Kindle and two Macbook Airs. What is more, my content creation and consumption across media, social networks, work and side projects is split across all of these devices in ways that guarantees no matter what I’ve left at home, I am going to miss something.
I know, I know— a high class problem to have. Or is it? Most people already own smartphones. And for a while now, laptops have been issued as the choice “bicycles for the mind” of information workers. Combine these two devices with a media-based subsidy model for some sort of a content consumption tablet and you’ve got the average Joe carrying (or thinking about) carrying 3 devices— again certainly for less money than they spent on their purple Sony VAIO a decade ago.
The big platform guys would do well to think about this software above the level of a single device view of the world and design use cases around it. Sure Dropbox and Evernote enable some of this but in what feels like tweener solutions; for instance, the iOS/Android Dropbox apps are nothing more than document viewers on devices which by design don’t come with filesystems. Similarly, I used to be a fan of AirDisplay which allowed my iPad to become my laptop’s external display or Type2Phone which allows your laptop keyboard to become an external Bluetooth keyboard to your smartphone but both of these are truly just parlor tricks.
And so I’m left with an iMessage experience which is still very broken across devices (the phone can bridge to texts when required but no other devices can?) or worse still, apps that carry the same name (iPhoto) but possess radically different sets of functionality. And this is all while “on the same platform!”
Navigating this world of software above the level of a single device won’t be easy but it will be increasingly a differentiator for the big companies and it’s a good place to put some cycles towards as we think of designing for abundance of devices we’re currently lucky enough to have.