Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More musings on single-use devices, including phones and kitchen aids

Back on November 20, I wrote a post that stated, in part:

Of course, this depends upon whether you want to buy a dedicated device (such as the Scoble Shiny Kitchen Aid), or a multi-purpose device (such as a netbook). On the one hand, while one would think a multi-purpose device would be more valuable, you do have a lot of people buying single-purpose devices, such as game consoles and GPS navigation devices. On the other hand, these very devices are having to become multi-purpose devices in order to compete.

The context of the post was a question about whether Google Chrome made sense, and perhaps it does for single use devices.

I began thinking about this again after my December 1 post about the differences between today's phones and the phones that I used as a kid in the 1960s and 1970s. While I noted that today's phones are used in a variety of environments (try placing an old Ma Bell phone in your pocket, provided that you can detach it from the wall), I failed to explicitly note that today's phones are multi-use devices, while the phones of yesteryear were single-use devices. Let's return to Dave Winer's thoughts on the topic:

The first phone I used had a rotary dial and rang with a bell, you know a clapper hitting a piece of metal, controlled by an electro-magnet. The funny thing about those phones — they worked.

Yes, they worked. You could call people with them. But I challenge you to go into a store today and find a mobile phone that ONLY makes calls.

A few years ago, our local courthouse banned people from bringing camera phones onto the premises. If they were to try to enforce such a ban today, they'd have to install (or re-install) an entire bank of pay phones. It's nearly impossible to buy a phone without a camera today; granted that the camera (using a Winer technical term) sucks, but it still takes pictures.

And that isn't all that today's phones do. Even if you don't own a so-called smartphone, chances are that your phone takes pictures and sends/receives text messages and sends/receives picture messages and plays music. Try getting the old Ma Bell in the wall to do all of that.

Now if you consider that your computer is by definition a multi-use device, and your phone is a multi-use devices, and even your game console may be a multi-use device (if it can play Blu-Ray or regular DVDs), you may think that single-use devices have completely disappeared.

Well, they haven't.

My Saturday post was devoted to a single-use device, the control panel of our oven. Now maybe one could claim that even that is a multi-use device, since it includes a timer, has manual temperature controls, and is capable of receiving the infamous probe input. But if you take a tour through your average kitchen, you will find a number of single-use devices scattered throughout. The microwave is an obvious example, but perhaps you have one or two or three coffeemakers, a slow cooker, and a number of other "computers" in wildly varying form factors, each devoted to a single purpose.

Now it's a leap of fancy to assume that every one of those kitchen appliances could benefit from a Google Chrome operating system, or another user-friendly operating system. For one thing, as has been noted in Royal Pingdom, Google Chrome itself is really suited for Internet connections, and I for one do not necessarily want to broadcast my microwaving habits to the world. Bue perhaps there's room for a "disconnected" operating system with a user interface that doesn't suck.

But it's more likely that we'll have a multitude of operating systems, and Kitchen Aid will have its own OS, and Flavia will have its own OS, and your microwave will have its own OS.

We'll see what happens.
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