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One device doesn’t fit all: why multiple devices are part of our future

There is a school of thought that the future will see us using only one digital device to meet all our needs. However, this is counter-intuitive given the ubiquity of these devices and the many and varied roles they play.

Digital devices are an increasingly integral part of our lives and there is an abundance of options offering various functions that improve productivity in some way. In our consumer-centric world, it is not at all uncommon for one individual to have in their possession an array of these devices – from laptop, to tablet, to smartphone, to desktop PC – each offering different tools to stay connected in the most meaningful and efficient way depending on where we are and what we are doing.

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So it makes little sense to try and cram all of this functionality into one device that would be as effective in the workplace as in the car on the way to work, especially when new technology means our devices are linked more than ever before.

There are some, like Mark Shuttleworth, who according to an article on ZDNet, believe that the smartphone will be the single device of the future. Shuttleworth is of the opinion that instead of carrying multiple devices that must be independently managed, a user would simply carry a smartphone that can plug into a tablet screen, high definition display or detachable keyboard.

While this has merit, it actually doesn’t cut out the multiple device scenario per se. It is simply a means of ensuring that the same information is available wherever you are and on whatever medium you choose to work. However, thanks to Cloud-based services and apps, this is already a possibility regardless of how many devices you have.

Lenovo’s DOit apps – SHAREit, which allows users to transfer files, videos, pictures and documents in seconds up to 60 times faster than Bluetooth where the devices connect wirelessly directly; and SYNCit, which backs up all your contacts, SMSs and call logs to the Cloud – are proof that it is easy to work seamlessly across multiple devices.

Looking beyond the technology, the benefits of using more than one device are also evident.

The 2014 Cisco Connected World Technology Report (CCWTR) charts the rise of the “supertaskers”, who can successfully do two things at once and will be the most coveted employees by 2020 thanks to their increased productivity. Interestingly, these individuals generally use four devices. In addition, with the growth of the “bring your own device” trend, the report shows that an increasing number of employees are allowed to connect any device to the company network. This trend is developing rather than diminishing the use of multiple devices, with Australia in particular reporting that more than half of its workforce use at least 10 devices in their daily lives.

Of course, using many devices in the workplace can be more of a distraction than a productivity hack. It requires mindfulness to manage your devices and delegate tasks to the right ones.

Wired shared the device habits of some effective business people, which really make sense to eliminate distractions and increase efficiency. One sends the reading material she has to work through to her tablet, so she can focus on that without the distraction of emails on her laptop. Another has his social apps on his tablet only so they don’t distract him when he is working on another device. One last example is a man who has a to-do app on his tablet and keeps it next to his desk like a physical calendar.

There are so many instances where it makes sense to use one device over another. It’s not the norm to wake up and look at your laptop first thing in the morning. And it probably wouldn’t be the most convenient to put together a presentation or complex document using just your smartphone. One size doesn’t fit all – in fact, a study conducted by Facebook and Gfk in early 2014 found that people feel a different connection to each of their devices and each plays a distinct role. The smartphone is always present and most commonly used for communication and social activity; the tablet is viewed as the entertainment hub; and the laptop or desktop is considered the workhorse.

At the centre of this multiple device culture is the idea that these devices are taking on some of the cognitive ergonomics of paper. In the same way that it’s easy to put down one piece of paper and pick up another, and spread out papers to allow our eyes to cast across them, using multiple devices has the potential to make the process of working and communicating more organic. As devices become cheaper, lighter and even bendable – even more like paper – this is only going to become more of a reality.

So considering the benefits of working across devices and the ease of doing this thanks to the Cloud, as well as that we are already becoming accustomed to using certain devices at certain times, it seems implausible that we will confine ourselves to just one device in the future.

Feature image: Jeremy Keith via Flickr

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