The Uniform and Separation of Devices

Not so long ago (maybe just several years ago), people had succeeded to unify multiple devices into one. For example, cellphone is now multi-functional and has replaced many utilities we saw in the early years. People tended to squeeze everything into a small device, and that led to the what smartphone looks like today. We don't need map anymore since there's GPS and Google Maps. Post-it turns unpopular since there are multimedia notes taking apps. There are countless things that are replaced: cameras, music stations, radios, CDs, books, flashlights, compass, and so on so forth. People literally thought a smartphone could replace everything we have in life. One recent example is ASUS's Padfone.


Another example is software-level integration like what Apple and Microsoft (Windows 10) did. People love to have only one device to do everything, and if it's possible to do so, why bother having multiple stuff?

But as more and more wearables come out, I start to see a different trend. We need separations as well. In a more completed sentence, we need a proper balance between uniform and separation.

Many smartwatches nowadays also ship with different sensors, and they are very similar to smartphones. What do people use smartwatches for though? Notifications, mostly. And some also use them as pedometers to count steps and track heart beats, but that is about it. Yet, smartwatches ship with multiple sensors and powerful processors. What if smartwatches do not have these? What did we lose?

From users' perspective, we lose nothing. We view notifications from smartphones, and we have more professional sports band to count steps and track your health more accurately. It seems smartwatches are unnecessary. But if we look from the perspective of separations, things are changed.

The biggest advantage of separations of functionalities is energy saving. In other words, device can last longer if we offload processing power to different devices. Smartphones, for example, can do a lot of things today and have lots of sensors. But as we embed more and more sensors and functionalities in it, the device will not last long. Suppose ten components kill the battery in two hour. Wouldn't we prefer ten devices that all last for a day? I understand that people do not like multiple devices, but what if they are wearables?

People wear watches, rings, glasses, hats, clothes, shoes, etc. We do not ask people to carry additional devices. We only ask to replace existing ones. Then smartwatches make sense, and the fact that people use them for notifications etc. also makes sense. At front end, notifications on a small screen will cost less energy; and at back end, phone sensors and watch sensors can alternate to save energy. When smart shoes turn mature, the energy is balanced among the three and we will have even longer duration using the devices. Ideally, shoes will take over the step counting and maybe partial processing tasks, and smartwatches and phones will have less load. Another example is glasses (though not many people wear it). Google glass shows the feasibility of moving screen from phone to glass. In this way, phone acts as a central processor and glasses display the UI. Watches still show notifications so it will not distract our eyes and we have more controls over whether to see the notifications or not. In short, the more wearables a people own, the longer our devices will last.

Of course, functionality offloading for energy is not the only benefit or the only purpose of developing these devices. And there may be lots of challenges to mange the communications among these devices, i.e. IoT. But I see that the separation of devices sounds very promising as more and more types of wearables come out.


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