Solving Multi-Device Dilemmas

Ever since the proliferation of different individual computing devices has occurred, people have been faced with a frustrating dilemma. How do you get your devices to work better together?

Yes, it’s great that we all now have a range of impressively powerful and capable devices that let us do almost anything, anywhere. The fact that we have computers in our pockets that are now more capable than room-sized supercomputers of a few decades ago is clearly a wonderful thing. And today’s super-slim, lightweight notebooks are a godsend for those who suffered through generations of “luggables.”

Ironically, though, the more capable the individual devices become, the more frustrating are the challenges that come with not having them work together more effectively. In the past, all the serious work only happened on PCs, so that was the only logical choice for many tasks. Similarly, large capacity storage was also only available on PCs, meaning they were the only place you needed to go to look for whatever files you desired.

Now, of course, high-capacity storage exists on everything from smartphones, to tablets, to PCs, to fingernail-sized storage cards, and the unlimited capacity of cloud-based storage services means it’s getting harder and harder to find the files, images or other data that we need. Plus, the amazing compute resources and connectivity options available on everything from the smallest wearables on up means it’s possible to do complex tasks across a huge range of computing devices.

The net result is a confusing mix of devices, platforms, services, and communications options that makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an organized digital life.

Several companies have made efforts to overcome these challenges, but most are intentionally limited to their own operating systems or other environments. Apple, for example, has had the ability to receive certain types of notifications that originate on iPhones onto Mac screens since the introduction of Continuity features in Mac OS X Yosemite edition, back in 2014.

Even having simple connections between multiple devices doesn’t always help, though. In fact, sometimes it gets downright annoying. Yes, I appreciate that a phone call to my iPhone will also appear on the screen of a Mac that I may be simultaneously using, but more often than not, I’m still going to answer on the phone. Plus, I don’t really appreciate every iOS device in sight starting to ring. Now, responding to a text or instant message is certainly easier with the full-sized keyboard of the connected Mac than tapping on an iPhone screen, but the fact that I (and the majority of other iPhone owners) are usually using a Windows PC along with an iPhone means this trick doesn’t do much good.

Microsoft is also attempting to address these multi-device issues. In the new Windows 10 Creators’ Edition update, the company has introduced a feature called Continue on PC that lets you move your browsing sessions from your smartphone to your PC. The setup process is a bit lengthy and it does require you to install an app on either your iOS or Android-based phone, but it’s a step in the right direction. A number of third-party vendors are also working on similar solutions, but the seamlessness of the experience and their overall effectiveness are still unknown.

With the increasing number of smart connected devices in our homes, the longer-term vision for these multi-device scenarios needs to expand as well. Samsung presented an intriguing vision of this concept at their recent developer’s conference in San Francisco, describing the ability to move certain tasks, such as automatically transferring over your exact location in reading a Facebook timeline from a Galaxy smartphone to a Samsung Smart TV. The devil is in the details for these kinds of applications, however, and while the concept sounds great, the execution of the idea remains to be seen. Plus, there is the concern that, like Apple, Samsung will limit these multi-device scenarios to its own branded products—something that would dramatically reduce its potential impact.

The process of moving from an individual device-focused world to one where all of our devices—regardless of brand or platform—can function together seamlessly is bound to be a long one. Overcoming the challenges necessary to make these multi-platform jumps isn’t easy and brand-centric thinking doesn’t help. Plus, doing these types of turnovers effectively is going to require a lot more intelligence about how, where, and for what applications we use our various devices. Most people do things a bit differently, so automatically customizing for individual habits is going to be essential for long-term success.

Despite these challenges, however, there’s no question that we need to evolve our view and usage of multiple device scenarios into easy-to-use, easy-to-traverse everyday experiences.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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