Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

PPVMTDO: The convergence in mobile devices.

What do you think about convergence in mobile devices? In next decade, will everyone carry around personal phone-videocamera-musicplayer-television-(dis)organizers?

To keep it simple, we could just call them PPVMTDO's.

I don't want to advertise, but the new Nokia phone series gives quite good glimpse to the future

(From a reader of in Espoo, Finland (but who works for a "User Experience and Usability Research Company, not for Nokia).

Ah, one of my favorite questions: convergence. I assume you are really talking about the convergence of Swiss Army Knives and mobile phones. Smart phones, PDAs, cellphones—whatever you want to call them—plus the cleverness and compactness of the Swiss army Knife, the knife that does everything, although nothing particularly well.

A friend just showed me his Swiss Army Knife: it had a 256K, USB memory stick and an LED flashlight. What was my response? Why the typical, geek, nerd, technologist's response: "Only 256K?"

Here, peek for yourself (look for USB Storage). This model of the Swiss army Knife comes with up to 1G memory, but the models with knife blades still are not allowed on airplanes. Although they now make Swiss Army knives without blades, gee, is a knife without a blade a knife? Over time this class of entries will get smarter and smarter, so who knows what you will find when you look!

"People only want to carry one device with them", is the mantra. Right now I carry a watch, a cellphone (a PalmOne Treo, if you must ask), wallet, house keys, car keys, and pen. And most of the time, a 5 Mbyte Canon digital camera.

It won't be long before allof this can be done with a single device. The phone will replace the wallet, beaming credit card information, micropayments, and identification to whatever device or authority requires it. Several places in the world are already experimenting with these capabilities. The phone already has a camera, although not as good as the separate one I carry. The phone has a clock, so some friends have stopped wearing watches. One model of the USB memory stick Swiss Army knife comes with a ballpoint pen.

So I only need two devices: Swiss Army knife and smart phone. Why not combine them?

Oh, I forgot the music player. Right now I carry a separate iPod (with those big bulky, Bose, sound-canceling earphones). But Motorola already has iTune song players in its phone (if only it can convince some carrier to deploy it), and soon every carrier will have its own proprietary brand of music player.

So, yes, in the future we will only have to carry one device: a Swiss Army Knife phone, with memory, camera, music, identification, PDA, ... . Hmm, I wonder if it could have a built-in water bottle as well, and maybe a sleeve to carry my books and papers, or alternatively, head-mounted display so I can read virtual copies of books and papers. Just one device? Isn't that nice?

Is it really nice? Here is how one newspaper columnist, Dana Bartholomew, of the Whittier Daily News (in Whittier, Calfornia) describes the result:

This is a real boon to the book publishing industry: Think of all those new titles they can publish! "Swiss Army knives for Dummies," "How to get the most out of your knife," "Six easy tips to avoid rebooting your knife." All sorts of new titles. Wonderful.

Of course, if you lose the evice, well, your data are safe, right? You did back them up? Oh, you backed them up on the memory stick that's attached to the knife? Shame on you. And you did use the fingerprint recognizer to safeguard your files, right?

And when that magical day happens where everything has converged into one device, some company will revolutionize the industry with a brand new design philosophy: simplicity. It will make a phone that only makes phone calls. And a knife that only cuts. And a pen that only writes. What a concept!

Simple, single purpose devices work better and are easier to learn. Multipurpose devices are more convenient. In the ever-continuing quest for simplicity and convenience, What comes around, goes around. Today simplicity, tomorrow convenience. Tomorrow convenience, the next day simplicity.

There is another direction: Bluetooth. (Simple, wireless interconection of multple separate devices.)

You could still have separate devices, but they would never have to be removed from their carrier (your pocket, briefcase, pocketbook, ...). The only visible part would be a universal controller: a Bluetooth device with simple buttons and a screen that connected to and controlled all the separate devices.

If done right, the controller would be modular and therefore changeable: If you changed, your phone, you could simply replace the phone module on the controller to match the new unit. Want to control the home lighting or thermostat: add the appropriate controller. Moreover, the interface could remain constant, so you wouldn't have to keep learning new paradigms for control.

Hah, what a silly dream, Companies will still insist on their proprietary codes, so each will want you to use their particular controller, which defeats the dream of a single, universal controller.

But it's a thought.