Multi-Function vs. Single Purpose Devices: Which Are Really Simpler? (A Guest Post)
This is a guest post from Mike at Homeless on Wheels.
Decluttering and minimalism guides frequently offer a blanket recommendation that single purpose items should be replaced by multi-function devices whenever possible. I might agree if the primary goal is to own the fewest possessions, or if you are trying to cram maximum functionality into minimum space and/or weight, perhaps for travel. If your real goal is simplifying your life, however, sometimes owning a few more things can make life simpler and easier.
When I Was A Boy
One of the earliest experiences I can remember of attempting to replace several items with one multipurpose device was when I was just a kid. I saw this cool pocket knife. Along with a knife, can opener, and scissors, it also had, believe it or not, a fork and spoon that each folded out for use!
Well, that seemed like a great idea and I just had to have it. I couldn’t wait until my next camping trip to try it out. Unfortunately I learned that while it was a nice knife, and the fork and spoon each worked quite well, too, it just was not a very good replacement for three separate utensils when mealtime came around, as I was limited to using only one of the three at a time. While it saved me a few ounces in my pack and was two fewer things to carry and keep track of, it greatly complicated eating a meal.
Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None?
The modern smart phone can replace a number of individual devices. The most common, in addition to the basic phone, are a camera, GPS navigator, and media player.
Let’s take a look at how well the smart phone replaces each of these devices:
My phone does one thing. It makes and receives calls. Voice quality as well as reception are excellent. How does the smart phone compare? Smartphones are rarely ideal as telephones. Many have less than stellar sound quality, and poor reception and dropped calls are a common complaint, too. Battery life? I get seven hours talk time and two weeks standby on my “just-a-phone”. Smartphones, with their bigger screens and many features, measure time between charges in hours rather than weeks. The basic phone makes a better telephone, and it certainly is simpler.
Most phone cameras are no match for even an inexpensive “real” camera, but when a photo opportunity presents itself, the best camera is the one you have in your hand. That said, is a camera phone any simpler to use than a basic point-and-shoot camera? One button turns on my camera, instantly, and a second button snaps the picture or starts shooting video. Phones tend to vary in level of complexity to access the camera, wasting time and possibly costing you the shot. If the phone is turned off, it takes even more time to boot up before you can use its camera. The point-and-shoot is simpler, and quicker to the draw, too.
There’s no contest, in my opinion. The standalone GPS navigator beats out the smart phone on all accounts. The screen is often bigger. GPS device manufacturers have been doing this for years and their routing algorithms, presentation, and ease-of-use are far better than any phone has to offer. Considering that some smart phone navigation apps only operate when there is a cell signal available, and some carriers charge an extra monthly fee for navigation, the standalone GPS is the better and simpler option.
This is one category where smartphones generally hold their own, and in some respects even outdo a separate player. They do a decent job at playing music and video. As an added bonus, you can buy new content instantly, wherever you are. Streaming audio and video make for a nice change of pace from your own library, but watch out for data overages if you are a heavy user. The ability to pause or mute the music automatically when a phone call comes in is great.
Multi Function vs. Multi Tasking
Remember the pocket knife? In spite of it having a perfectly good knife, fork and spoon, it was useless come mealtime because I could only use it as one utensil at a time. It was multi-purpose, but not multi-tasking. While some phones might have the computing power to multi-task, can you really do more than one thing at a time on a four-inch screen? Not to mention that it is still a phone, so no matter what else you’re doing, it comes to a screeching halt when you get a call. Have you ever tried to take a picture or shoot video with your phone, only to have a phone call come in and ruin it? Or have the same thing happen while using your phone to play dinner music or DJ a party? Have you been late to an appointment because someone called, causing your GPS app to miss a crucial navigation maneuver? You get the idea.
Freedom Of Choice
With individual devices, I have freedom of choice. I can choose exactly which phone, which camera, which GPS and which media player I want. And upgrade or replace any one of them at any time without affecting the others. Possibly more importantly, I have the freedom to choose exactly which devices I want to carry and use and when. I can leave the phone at home, or turn it off, while still having my camera. I actually find myself “forgetting” my phone more and more lately. My GPS stays in the car, stuck to the windshield, which is the only place I need it. Nothing to remember, nothing to plug or unplug each time I need it. And the music player? I don’t always need a running soundtrack for my life.
What Do I Carry?
I carry a basic Nokia phone, the virtues of which I have already extolled above, and a Kodak pocket camcorder about the same size as my phone that shoots HD video and 5 megapixel stills. GPS lives in the car and I haven’t carried a music player around regularly in years. I’ve learned to appreciate the sounds around me.
Your Mileage May Vary
I used a smart phone as an example that most of us are familiar with, even if we don’t own one. And my writing is based on my needs and my experience. Can you think of other situations where owning two or more single purpose devices might make more sense than owning a single multi purpose unit? Or do you think I’m totally off base?
Please take a moment to comment on this post, then I hope you’ll visit Mike at his developing Homeless on Wheels blog.