15 votes

Diminishing differentiation: Are all our gadgets making each other redundant?

37 comments

  1. [22]
    Octofox Link
    A well made specialized device is quite a joy to use. For ages I was debating why a bike gps/computer is needed when my phone could probably do the same thing. After getting one I absolutely love...

    A well made specialized device is quite a joy to use. For ages I was debating why a bike gps/computer is needed when my phone could probably do the same thing. After getting one I absolutely love it, the GPS is better quality, the battery life is a lot better, its more durable than a phone mounted to the handlebars and won't be smashed if I crash. Same for my phone/ereader/desktop. I could read books on my desktop and browse the web on my ereader but its an absolutely awful experience.

    The one bit of tech I find redundant is the tablet. I would always rather be using a laptop or a phone. I guess it makes sense if you hardly ever need a laptop but I see no use for it in my life.

    10 votes
    1. [10]
      Grand0rbiter (edited ) Link Parent
      Agreed. Nothing can replace an ereader for books. The screen (and battery life) is what makes it amazing. Still there's a lot of people (i was one of them) who says they like the feel of books,...

      Agreed. Nothing can replace an ereader for books. The screen (and battery life) is what makes it amazing.

      Still there's a lot of people (i was one of them) who says they like the feel of books, turning pages and etc. All people who said that to me never touched or saw an ereader. Books have this "luditte aura", that it carries knowledge in it's own form, will survive any technology and remain true to itself. People love to display books and shelves to show they read dense and intelligent things. A gadget won't help with that.

      The moment i caved and bought one, i never opened another actual book anymore. I donated everything. And my reading skyrocketed. I am reading everywhere.

      7 votes
      1. [6]
        hamstergeddon Link Parent
        I never saw a need to pick a side and go exclusive. If I'm at Goodwill and I spot a book I'm interested in I'll pick it up. If I'm at the computer and I hear about a book, I'll grab the ebook. If...

        I never saw a need to pick a side and go exclusive. If I'm at Goodwill and I spot a book I'm interested in I'll pick it up. If I'm at the computer and I hear about a book, I'll grab the ebook. If I'm at Target and I see a book I'm interested in, I'll google the price and choose accordingly. They're both equally viable in 2019, so I choose not to choose one over the other.

        6 votes
        1. [4]
          NaraVara Link Parent
          I strongly prefer physical books, but I find the eReader handy for 3 cases. One is pulpy tripe that I have no desire to keep on a shelf when I'm done with it. The other is for long trips when I...

          I strongly prefer physical books, but I find the eReader handy for 3 cases. One is pulpy tripe that I have no desire to keep on a shelf when I'm done with it. The other is for long trips when I want to have choices available without needing to lug a library around with me. And the third is for really thick, heavy books that I don't want to have to take on my commute.

          But I mostly think of ebooks as "disposable." And I strongly dislike the general indifference the medium has towards things like typesetting. Apple's eBook versions are much better, but they only work well on tablets which kind of defeats the point.

          I kind of wish there was a way to get a free or deeply discounted eBook token with purchase of a physical hard-cover book. Vinyl records do this by packaging a digital download code with each record and it works well. DVD/BluRays sometimes offer this up too. For some reason the publishing industry seems resistant.

          3 votes
          1. [2]
            hamstergeddon Link Parent
            You'd think something as "dead" as print media would realize they should progress a little quicker than they are. Yeah I'll agree with that. I've only had this happen once, but I recently bought...

            You'd think something as "dead" as print media would realize they should progress a little quicker than they are.

            And I strongly dislike the general indifference the medium has towards things like typesetting.

            Yeah I'll agree with that. I've only had this happen once, but I recently bought an ebook and it was full of weird spacing issues. Letters from the previous word would be bunched up against the next, making it hard to read in places. I'm guessing it was some sort of automatic process where it flips through the book, scans, and digitizes the text.

            2 votes
            1. NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
              I think they're basically stuck due to how IP protections and residual payments work in the publishing industry. Unless something comes along that can dramatically reshape the relationships...

              You'd think something as "dead" as print media would realize they should progress a little quicker than they are.

              I think they're basically stuck due to how IP protections and residual payments work in the publishing industry. Unless something comes along that can dramatically reshape the relationships between creators, distributers, and publishers they're probably trapped. iTunes did it for Music, Valve did it for games, but there isn't an equivalent for books besides Amazon. And Amazon is focused more on becoming a monopolist than on actually making it easy for people who love reading to get things to read and for writers to get paid for it.

              3 votes
          2. Grand0rbiter Link Parent
            I think books (including ebooks) in general are disposable for me. Once i read, i get rid of it. I see no need to keep it on a shelf. I donate everything. Now with ebooks the availability is not...

            I think books (including ebooks) in general are disposable for me. Once i read, i get rid of it. I see no need to keep it on a shelf. I donate everything.

            Now with ebooks the availability is not an issue. I can delete and grab again, storage is cheap and there's no need for resources when making copies.

            But i agree that typesetting and formatting are a issue with ebooks. There are some people who cares about this, like this website, but it's a minority.

            2 votes
        2. Grand0rbiter Link Parent
          I always use the ebook version now. Here in Brazil the ebook and book are not that different in price and now i mostly pirate books because i can't agree to pay R$40 on a book or ebook. When it's...

          I always use the ebook version now. Here in Brazil the ebook and book are not that different in price and now i mostly pirate books because i can't agree to pay R$40 on a book or ebook. When it's on sale for R$5~15, i buy it.

          2 votes
      2. Amarok Link Parent
        Tablets do well in hospitals, and probably anywhere that a traditional 'clipboard' would be appropriate to the workflow. Cheaper (think software licensing) and simpler than a laptop, able to...

        Tablets do well in hospitals, and probably anywhere that a traditional 'clipboard' would be appropriate to the workflow. Cheaper (think software licensing) and simpler than a laptop, able to handle reading from and adding information to simple interfaces. I have to agree that they don't stack up to ereaders for home use. I do find them useful looking up D&D books and things of that nature at the gaming table.

        3 votes
      3. NeoTheFox Link Parent
        Oh yes, I can relate, I've been a very lazy reader when I used to read regular books and with my smartphone, but ever since I got a proper e-reader I've been reading much more and cleared my...

        Oh yes, I can relate, I've been a very lazy reader when I used to read regular books and with my smartphone, but ever since I got a proper e-reader I've been reading much more and cleared my backlog to the point where I don't even know what to read anymore and would jump at new stuff if I find it interesting.

        1 vote
      4. Catt Link Parent
        I love my reader, but definitely still prefer books. Ereader has greatly improved vacations for me. I use to pack a bunch of books and now I just carry my ereader. I also don't like the way books...

        All people who said that never touched or saw an ereader.

        I love my reader, but definitely still prefer books. Ereader has greatly improved vacations for me. I use to pack a bunch of books and now I just carry my ereader. I also don't like the way books are licensed on ereaders, but that might be because I have a Sony one...

        1 vote
    2. [6]
      vakieh Link Parent
      There are plenty of people who find a use for it in theirs when they see no use for a laptop - the classic use case I see are women who travel with a tablet in their handbags. Fits a role the...

      I see no use for it in my life

      There are plenty of people who find a use for it in theirs when they see no use for a laptop - the classic use case I see are women who travel with a tablet in their handbags. Fits a role the laptop usually doesn't, and has a different compromise between weight and screen size/utility that they prefer to using a phone (too small for the task) or a laptop (too heavy or bulky). There are plenty of other use cases (and people with those cases) out there for a tablet over a laptop - and the numbers say they are more common than the ones in favour of laptops.

      Similarly for e-ink displays - I have no trouble at all reading books on a computer monitor or phone. I have a kindle, but I almost never use it. Different people have different reactions to backlit displays.

      The worst mistake anyone can make when it comes to understanding tech (and markets in general) is believing their personal experience is the only one.

      1 vote
      1. [5]
        Octofox Link Parent
        Thats why I specified my life in particular because I know if no one had a use for them they wouldn't exist. I am a heavy content creator not a consumer which is what tablets are aimed at.

        Thats why I specified my life in particular because I know if no one had a use for them they wouldn't exist. I am a heavy content creator not a consumer which is what tablets are aimed at.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          the_walrus Link Parent
          I'm with you here. Maybe it's just because it's what I grew up with, but I feel as though I can never be as efficient with a touch screen as with a mouse and keyboard. I have a "2-in-1" for work,...

          I would always rather be using a laptop or a phone.

          I'm with you here. Maybe it's just because it's what I grew up with, but I feel as though I can never be as efficient with a touch screen as with a mouse and keyboard.

          I have a "2-in-1" for work, one of those touchscreen laptops that you can bend the screen nearly 360 degrees around so it operates like a tablet. It's fantastic for showing clients and prospects our portfolio of work, especially while standing. You ever tried to show someone pictures on a laptop without setting it down? Huge pain in the butt. I think that tablets are far more specialized than traditional mouse-and-keyboard computers. They have their place, but I think for most people they're unnecessary.

          2 votes
          1. [2]
            Akir Link Parent
            It depends on the type of work being done, but keyboards can be much more efficient for certain workloads. As an example, think about how people love Vi because it gives them all their editing...

            It depends on the type of work being done, but keyboards can be much more efficient for certain workloads. As an example, think about how people love Vi because it gives them all their editing tools right at their hands. Some people go even further and use tiling window managers or even do everything from within a single terminal.

            2 votes
            1. the_walrus Link Parent
              Definitely. I prefer doing most of my work with a keyboard. Any time I'm moving a large amount of files, copying, changing permissions etc, I use the command line.

              Definitely. I prefer doing most of my work with a keyboard. Any time I'm moving a large amount of files, copying, changing permissions etc, I use the command line.

        2. ali Link Parent
          I use my tablet for note taking, studying and watching lectures. It's much handier than unpacking my laptop each time.

          I use my tablet for note taking, studying and watching lectures. It's much handier than unpacking my laptop each time.

    3. NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
      I don't know. I end up using my iPad when I'm at home almost exclusively. I have an iMac that I use for actual productivity stuff, but almost everything else is Tablet only. I have a laptop too,...

      I don't know. I end up using my iPad when I'm at home almost exclusively. I have an iMac that I use for actual productivity stuff, but almost everything else is Tablet only.

      I have a laptop too, but it's exclusively for work. Once I set up a NAS I expect I'll be able to do even more with the iPad since I'll be able to access all my photos, videos, and music from my internal network and not worry about storage constraints on the device. There's nothing I'd rather have when I'm doing chores. I use it as a mini-TV when I'm cooking or ironing/folding laundry.

    4. [2]
      the_walrus Link Parent
      Which brand/model of bike computer do you use? I had one years ago that just tracked distance and speed, before GPS was widespread. I've been thinking of getting a mount for my phone to place on...

      Which brand/model of bike computer do you use? I had one years ago that just tracked distance and speed, before GPS was widespread. I've been thinking of getting a mount for my phone to place on my handlebars, but I've got that same worry about it falling or being smashed in a crash.

      1. Octofox Link Parent
        I have the Giant NeosTrack. Out of the box it shows you time, distance, temperature and gradient but over Bluetooth and Ant it can connect to basically every bike sensor for things like power,...

        I have the Giant NeosTrack. Out of the box it shows you time, distance, temperature and gradient but over Bluetooth and Ant it can connect to basically every bike sensor for things like power, heart rate, cadence and current gear for wireless shifting.

        1 vote
    5. mrbig Link Parent
      I want to get a tablet mainly for reading comics. I had one but it broke. It was a wonderful experience, and very cheap too.

      I want to get a tablet mainly for reading comics. I had one but it broke. It was a wonderful experience, and very cheap too.

    6. Diet_Coke Link Parent
      My only use case for a tablet is when I'm flying, because I can read, watch movies, or play games on it and keep my phone turned off so the battery is good when I land. It takes up less real...

      My only use case for a tablet is when I'm flying, because I can read, watch movies, or play games on it and keep my phone turned off so the battery is good when I land. It takes up less real estate than a laptop and I think the battery lasts longer too.

      That's it though, other than that I don't really see the purpose of them.

  2. [10]
    mrbig (edited ) Link
    I think what a gadget cannot do is frequently valuable to me. If my Kindle played Netflix shows my reading habits would be ruined. If I could type as fast and efficiently on my cellphone as I can...

    I think what a gadget cannot do is frequently valuable to me.

    • If my Kindle played Netflix shows my reading habits would be ruined.

    • If I could type as fast and efficiently on my cellphone as I can on my computer I'd probably have even worse sleep habits.

    • If I could work on my video-game I'd probably never play any game.


    Someday I might concoct a solution for prose-only Linux configuration that boots directly into a custom build of Vim or Emacs with nothing but the writing essentials. If I had the money, I'd have a laptop just for writing prose. Like an electronic typewriter. Or I might buy one of those fancy ones that came out of Kickstarter.

    5 votes
    1. [8]
      tindall Link Parent
      I do this, and it doesn't even require that much money. I bought a $40 shell of a Thinkpad T430s, put in $35 dollars of RAM and a $25 64GB SSD, and set it to start FocusWriter on boot. Then I...

      If I had the money, I'd have a laptop just for writing prose. Like an electronic typewriter.

      I do this, and it doesn't even require that much money. I bought a $40 shell of a Thinkpad T430s, put in $35 dollars of RAM and a $25 64GB SSD, and set it to start FocusWriter on boot. Then I removed the wireless card. It's great.

      5 votes
      1. [7]
        mrbig Link Parent
        How's your setup? Linux?

        How's your setup? Linux?

        1 vote
        1. [6]
          tindall Link Parent
          Yes, Ubuntu 18.04. It's long-term support so I can get security and performance upgrades for 5 years without needing to do a version upgrade, but tbh I just don't update it - it has no internet...

          Yes, Ubuntu 18.04. It's long-term support so I can get security and performance upgrades for 5 years without needing to do a version upgrade, but tbh I just don't update it - it has no internet connection!

          3 votes
          1. [5]
            mrbig Link Parent
            That's awesome. I could achieve the same by removing network-manager since I was never able to configure it manually. But I know me: I would find a way to get distracted. My goal for the future is...

            That's awesome. I could achieve the same by removing network-manager since I was never able to configure it manually. But I know me: I would find a way to get distracted. My goal for the future is creating some sort of distribution or customization that basically works like an actual electronic typewriter. No internet, no settings to mess with, and a heavily customized version of Vim or Emacs - but probably something simpler. And it would only be for writing too: you would not be able to perform heavy editing, only the current paragraph.

            I miss typewriters.

            One can only dream.

            2 votes
            1. [4]
              Akir Link Parent
              Typewriters are still being made. Both Brother and Royal have models. Royal even has a manual one, I believe. Edit: There are also modern paper-free analogues such as the freewrite.

              Typewriters are still being made. Both Brother and Royal have models. Royal even has a manual one, I believe.

              Edit: There are also modern paper-free analogues such as the freewrite.

              1 vote
              1. [3]
                mrbig Link Parent
                I know! But those are not cheap even in the US, let alone when converting to BRL and shipping to Brazil. Our import taxes are very high too. Products that are considered affordable abroad around...

                I know! But those are not cheap even in the US, let alone when converting to BRL and shipping to Brazil. Our import taxes are very high too. Products that are considered affordable abroad around here are privilege for the rich. That’s why I look for other alternatives.

                1 vote
                1. [2]
                  Akir Link Parent
                  You can still get used typewriters fairly cheap, though. Replacement ribbons aren't too difficult to source, I am told.

                  You can still get used typewriters fairly cheap, though. Replacement ribbons aren't too difficult to source, I am told.

                  2 votes
                  1. mrbig Link Parent
                    The ones I liked the most where the IBM selectric. But nowadays I’d prefer a computer that worked like a single purpose electronic typewriter.

                    The ones I liked the most where the IBM selectric. But nowadays I’d prefer a computer that worked like a single purpose electronic typewriter.

                    1 vote
    2. bilbodwyer Link Parent
      I think there's something to be said for just owning a typewriter in that case!

      I think there's something to be said for just owning a typewriter in that case!

      1 vote
  3. NeoTheFox Link
    At first I thought that the article was pretty oblivious to the real reason we have this many devices, but the conclusion was pretty refreshing - yes, it's all about different mindsets and use...

    At first I thought that the article was pretty oblivious to the real reason we have this many devices, but the conclusion was pretty refreshing - yes, it's all about different mindsets and use cases. The inevitable fact of any modern device is that it is, most likely, a fully-fledged computer, and they can all do what a computer does. This notion was always at a heart of a movement for consumer control and against "walled gardens" that are some devices that offer no way of running unsigned code on them. A great example was PSP - unmodded it was just a gaming device, with a half-working browser, pretty pathetic music player (on the account of very fast battery drain), and a decent video player. But a modded PSP would quickly turn itself into an e-reader, a great music player, thanks to new low-frequency mode, an emulator of most consoles, an SSH client, a good web browser, an amazing video player, a stopwatch, a counter, a calculator, a word processor, a file sharing hub, an ftp client/server, and the list goes on.
    And yes, an e-reader may have the same hardware, the same OS, the same theoretical features as a tablet and even look like one, but the sole purpose for it is its screen that mimics paper, a phone can give you YouTube and the web on the go, but everyone prefers a larger screen and more comfort, etc, etc. It's just that thanks to Android and a move to HTML5 most devices aren't walled gardens anymore and people started noticing how much can any computer really do. This diversity is never bad, and it doesn't kill alternatives as the article also points out quite well.

    3 votes
  4. onyxleopard (edited ) Link
    It’s interesting how this piece drags in a lot of the history of Apple’s touch-screen computing devices but doesn’t inform the reader of some of the history of their development. Jobs noted at one...

    It’s interesting how this piece drags in a lot of the history of Apple’s touch-screen computing devices but doesn’t inform the reader of some of the history of their development. Jobs noted at one of the All Things Digital conferences that Apple’s R&D had been working on a touchscreen tablet in the mid 2000s before it started working on a phone handset. It ended up releasing the iPhone before the iPad because driving a high resolution, color touchscreen display at a reasonable frame rate in 2007 was infeasible. If you ever used one of the first gen iPads, I think you’ll agree that even in 2010, Apple was just barely hitting the mark for acceptable performance.

    Today is a different story, and I have to say that the 2018 iPad Pro has convinced me that the tablet form factor is going to have legs. I have owned several Mac laptops, starting with the Aluminum Powerbook G4 through to a 2018 Touch Bar MacBook Pro (issued from work) and my personal laptop which is a 2017 MacBook (yes, one of those ones running an Intel Core M). In the past I’ve used previous iterations of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines.

    The thing about laptops is that I’ve never been confident enough with them to do sustained compute tasks. If you try to do anything intensive with them, they begin to throttle. It is abundantly clear that even with active fan cooling and passive aluminum enclosures, portable computers are hampered by the physics of heat dissipation.

    This is actually what piqued my interest in the 2017 MacBook, which has no active cooling. I picked it up at launch with the intent to use it as 'dumb' terminal to ssh into my iMac. This works very well, and I don’t have to worry about any fans wearing out. Fans and spinning HDD platters are the first thing to fail on any laptop I’ve used. Some people don’t like the 'butterfly' keyboard switches, but it works well enough for me. But, the extent to which I taxed that machine was at most streaming some HD video over WiFi. Intel’s integrated GPU is able to handle that perfectly fine. I like that machine, and can easily hack away at some Python on it, check email etc. If I need more oomph, I can access it over a network.

    This brings me to the 2018 iPad Pro. However serviceable the Intel Core M in my MacBook is, the SoC in the iPad Pro is on another level. The iPad Pro feels like it’s not even breaking a sweat. Granted, iOS isn’t exactly primed to do hardcore compute tasks like transcoding big, high res video, or compiling a large software project. But, I think the day will come when Apple unleashes their SoCs to do that (or maybe puts them in a MacBook). What I have to say is that if I pair the iPad with a bluetooth keyboard and enter a remote desktop session to my iMac, I wonder if it would be more efficient if Apple would just let the iPad run macOS itself. Synthetic benchmarks have their flaws, but if I run GeekBench 4 on my late 2017 5k iMac and 2018 11" iPad Pro, here are the results:

    GeekBench Version OS Version Hardware Model CPU Single-Core CPU Score Multi-Core CPU Score Compute Score (Metal)
    4.3.4 macOS 10.14.5 iMac17,1 Intel Core i7-6700K 4,943 16,257 84,433
    4.3.2 iOS 12.3.1 iPad8,3 Apple A12X Bionic 5,006 18,020 42,805

    My iMac is actually significantly more compute than I really need. And it’s already 'old' by technology standards, draws massively more power and requires a lot of active cooling if I give it a decent workload. My takeaway here is that a fanless, battery-powered Apple tablet, either today, or in the near future, is going to be such a capable computer that the notion that it would be inferior to other devices at anything would only be the fault of the software. The hardware is already approaching more compute than I will regularly take advantage of. I realize that some use-cases such as heavy media production, simulation, and bleeding edge video games will still be hungry for more, esp. on the GPU front, but I’m basically satisfied. If Apple puts more effort in making iOS capable, I could potentially see myself using an iPad for most of my computing needs. That is something I would never have thought I’d say even a year ago.

    I was highly skeptical of the iPad as a platform and tablets as a general device archetype in the past. I had been exposed to Apple eMates back in elementary school. I had played with my mom’s Palm organizer in the late 90s/early 00s. I went and tried the demo units of each iPad when they released. These things were barely passable as something that felt like a responsive computer. And, the styluses were on these things felt like gimmicks.

    When I tried the 2018 iPad Pro, something was different. These things are finally getting to the point where I think there’s a credible case that a tablet computer can be a viable and legitimate form factor as a laptop replacement for some people. I don’t think most people who have to type more than 10 words at a time will ever be comfortable with a mobile handset as their only computer that they take with them, but I think that if you’re willing to throw a tablet and a bluetooth keyboard in your bag, an iPad may be a workable alternative at this point for some. That’s really unexpected to me—it really feels like living in the future.

    3 votes
  5. Catt Link
    Interesting read. I do find a little redundancy to be pretty helpful day to day. Smartphones have been great for being a jack of all trades, but I find if I'm really serious about say taking a...

    Interesting read. I do find a little redundancy to be pretty helpful day to day. Smartphones have been great for being a jack of all trades, but I find if I'm really serious about say taking a photo, reading, gaming, or writing a cover letter, I definitely switch to a more single purpose device. (And I prefer to wear a watch).

    I also think it's great to have the redundancy in something like a phone to allow a lower price point in having tech to do certain tasks.

    1 vote
  6. the_walrus Link
    I'm glad they mentioned Samsung Dex. A couple months ago, my motherboard on my tower burned out, (and my Macbook mobo burned out on me about a year prior), so I was out a computer. I have a...

    I'm glad they mentioned Samsung Dex. A couple months ago, my motherboard on my tower burned out, (and my Macbook mobo burned out on me about a year prior), so I was out a computer. I have a desktop and a laptop for work, but for personal stuff, I've since been doing everything on my phone (Galaxy Note 9).

    I mean, the thing has a better CPU, a better GPU, and more RAM than the first few desktops I used growing up. I've seriously considered buying something like NexDock, which is essentially a laptop shell designed to take advantage of Samsung Dex.

    1 vote
  7. DonQuixote Link
    Phone: Iphone 5s, reading in line, backup music player, spoken notes. Old windows phone, music library, gym Tablet: Samsung ATIV (Windows 8.1), drawing, main home computer, music and books...

    Phone: Iphone 5s, reading in line, backup music player, spoken notes. Old windows phone, music library, gym

    Tablet: Samsung ATIV (Windows 8.1), drawing, main home computer, music and books libraries. Notes, written and typed. Old IPad, reddit, twitter, not much else.

    E-Reader - old Nook Simple touch. Reading books. (My favorite device.)

    Work PC - HP, Windows 10, bookkeeping (Quickbooks), documents(Windows Office)email, All work files.
    Six devices, lots of overlap, usually have two on hand. Ditched Android years ago, too intrusive. It's amazing how the old devices retain functionality. They're also very cheap. It also keeps the mind fluid. Like licorice ;)

    1 vote