Intel: Don't look for one device to do it all

All-in-one devices can't be expert at anything -- and can be lost, Intel execs say

Business people and consumers looking for one electronic device that can take care of all their needs have false hopes, according to researchers at Intel Corp.

But scientists at Intel's research facility in Pittsburgh say they do expect that personal devices will one day become ... well, much more lovable.

Genevieve Bell, an Intel Fellow and director of user experience, explained that an all-in-one device -- one that includes a phone, an Internet connection, a pager, a camera, a calendar, a GPS system and other capabilities -- probably couldn't do anything exceptionally well.

And, she added, if a person lost the device that did all those tasks, he or she would have a really bad day.

"I'm not sure any device can carry all that weight," Bell told Computerworld in an interview at the Pittsburgh lab. "I would love to get to a world where I only have one device. Your handbag would weigh less. But it would just never work. I think we'll actually have more devices."

Bell said that replacing laptops, smartphones, pagers and other everyday systems with a single device simply is too much convergence.

"Thinking we'll have one device that does everything is like our fetish with having paperless offices," she added. "It's jut not going to happen. The problem with convergence is we converge around the object and not the experience. As human beings, we are never just one thing. We are employees. We are partners. We are children. We are members of churches and social groups. We'll need different devices for different things."

Intel CTO Justin Rattner added that while there likely won't be an all-in-one device, new more personalized systems should be emerging from development labs soon.

"It's going to be about getting devices that know me," said Rattner. "That's something we think is really important. My phone doesn't know any more about me today than it did the day I got it. Think of the calendar in your phone as a soft sensor. The device should understand [from items posted in its calendar] what my day is like and whether I need vehicle navigation or I need to read something before an important meeting. [The cell phone] has all this information and it still doesn't do all that much for me."

Rattner said he looks forward to a time when an embedded camera in cell phones can recognize the owner, and whether someone else tries to use it. He also expects that next-generation phone will recognize traffic jams on his work route and then alert him to leave early and provide alternate routes.

"Devices need to become more like personal assistants," he added. "They need to become more assertive. That's one way these devices will become more lovable."

Andrew Chien, vice president of research at Intel and director of future technologies research at Intel Labs, said he wants to pick out the devices he'll need for the day much like he picks out his clothes.

"One of the reasons why we have mixed feelings about our devices is that they should be more like my wardrobe," he explained. "I go to the closet and pick out my clothes. We're going to get to a world where people can pick the best device for whatever function, without worrying about them working together. I should have the best devices and know they're going to work together."

The more seamlessly devices can work together, the more specialized they can become, Chien said. Instead of needed data being stored in a single device, that information should be easily shared among devices so they can each offer strong functionality. And that connectivity and shared data would make Rattner's vision of smart digital assistants come to life.

"Will your phone directory information be in your earpiece or your handset or in your laptop or your shoe heel?" asked Chien. "It shouldn't matter where it is."

Bell said the goal is to develop devices that can fend off viruses, hold a long charge, fit our bodies better and take the punishment doled out when rolling around in the bottom of a handbag.

"People love, love, love the Internet," Bell said. "It's an integral part of our lives. But people are less in love with many of the devices that deliver the Internet to them. We need to develop devices that people can love too."

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