In the future, we'll all be using a single device for work, rest and play – true? Well, the tech giants parading their goods at the recent IFA consumer electronics show believe they can deliver this technological utopia by the end of the year.
Sony, Toshiba, Samsung and Dell all revealed Windows 8 tablet/laptop hybrids with a combination of pens, rotating touch screens and keyboards. Great, one device fits all so this must be the future! Hold on, take a deep breath and stand back for a moment…
Apple's current line-up includes svelte laptops (slimline Airs and powerful MacBooks), the new slimmer, longer and faster iPhone5 and iPod Touch and the iPad family (more on that next month). They don't seem to be combining this lot into one device – far from it. Rather than build a single device that tries really hard to be everyone's friend like an enthusiastic puppy, they offer us a range of products that perform the best job in any given situation.
I remember clearly having an 'exchange of views' via LinkedIn prior to the launch of the first iPad. Someone had a strong opinion regarding the necessity of a stylus for the forthcoming tablet and how Apple couldn't afford to launch without one. My point was that the strength of the iPad would lie in its ability to work perfectly without the need for any extraneous peripherals – i.e. a stylus or keyboard. Both my hands feature built-in screen activation devices and the digital interpretation of a physical keyboard works effectively enough.
The iPad still functions beautifully without the need for extras and it certainly benefits from the additional weight and bulk saved. I've typed this whole article on my laptop and haven't once felt the need to touch the screen although I'd be happy to invest in a multitouch iMac (which designer wouldn't want a digital drawing board and hands up players looking for the ultimate gaming table).
The new iPod Touch is aimed firmly at the gaming market, likely to induce a final Nintendo DS death rattle and provide a superb touch and-tilt controller to accompany Apple devices across the range, from iPads to iMacs to Apple TV. More device sales, less convergence.
I'm not saying convergence isn't a good thing – it is. It's just that the technology we're being offered isn't up to the job. I want a smartphone that weighs less than my e-ink Kindle, folds out to the size of a tablet with a gestural table-top keyboard and the power of a laptop. Anything else is a compromise.
Nokia, Motorola and Amazon presented their latest devices this week and none of them were trying too hard to offer something their audiences don't want or need so they get brownie points for that. Nokia and Motorola however lose points (and $millions wiped of their share price) for showcasing hardware we can't actually buy yet.
This is just the beginning of the middle as we head deeper into gadget launch season. Nokia are still making phones, Amazon and Kobo have strengthened their positions in the e-Reader and tablet markets and laptop manufacturers are facing an identity crisis. Apple have shown their latest hand with another card in their back pocket for next month.
Design and innovation have key roles to play in this: Design = how it looks and feels, Innovation = how it works and empowers. Watch this space...