All-in-one or Nothing at All? – by “Ker M”

The desire for increased compatibility, portability, and adaptability in technology–particularly, internet technology–has been the driving force behind innovation in the past few decades. From the room-sized giant proto-computers of the 70’s to the netbooks and iPads of the new millennium,  technology has become faster, smaller, and more capable. My Blackberry serves as my phone, calendar, instant messenger, and internet and e-mail client when I’m on-the-go; and it conveniently fits in my pocket.

To pull from the Electronica duo, Daft Punk, the motivating factor behind this “harder, better, faster, stronger” mentality is the seemingly indisputable claim that all-in-one technology is ideal. But is this really true? Sure, the advent of these all-in-one technologies can make life a little easier in some senses, but how is it affecting true technological development?

All-in-one devices have fueled the fire behind technological appliancization. Companies that create these machines restrict how they can be used and what can be used on them for user safety and product stability. The idea is that restrictions on what one can and cannot do are necessary to prevent a user from putting a program on the device that will harm it. Since it is an all-in-one device, that would mean losing everything: phone contacts, important documents, etc. This appliancization, though increasing user safety, has seemed to make the technology stagnate in terms of development. Sure, the devices are a little faster and can hold a bit more memory than they could in the past, but true innovation has been stifled because of the big company roadblocks that prohibit developers from contributing to the technological wealth of knowledge.

Perhaps this can most easily be seen in the public rhetoric used to promote these devices. The discourse revolves around the same few features: internet speed, number of applications available, and screen resolution. None of these showcase the innovativeness of the design or functionality. Why? Because, in general, there isn’t any. Just look at these articles about the Playbook and the Tab. These articles discuss the new players in competition with Apple’s iPad, focusing on those aspects of the devices which are not actually different from those available on the Apple machine. It becomes more clear that the companies creating these all-in-one devices are not actually concerned with technological development (in the way early computer pioneers were), but rather with market competition. The strategy questions change from “how can we make our consumers lives better?” to “how can we narrowly outdo our competitors for a small bump in revenue this market period?”.

This type of technological development leaves everyone unsatisfied. The ability for devices to do more and more is great until something goes wrong. Restrictions on individual developers  stifle creativity, while company goals shift from the user to the market. In the end, all-in-one appliances leave us with nothing at all.

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