Opinion: Solving multi-device dilemmas

Julio Franco

Posts: 8,617   +1,485
Staff member

Ever since the proliferation of different individual computing devices has occurred, people have been faced with a frustrating dilemma. How do you get your devices to work better together?

Yes, it’s great that we all now have a range of impressively powerful and capable devices that let us do almost anything, anywhere. The fact that we have computers in our pockets that are now more capable than room-sized supercomputers of a few decades ago is clearly a wonderful thing. And today’s super-slim, lightweight notebooks are a godsend for those who suffered through generations of “luggables.”

Ironically, though, the more capable the individual devices become, the more frustrating are the challenges that come with not having them work together more effectively. In the past, all the serious work only happened on PCs, so that was the only logical choice for many tasks. Similarly, large capacity storage was also only available on PCs, meaning they were the only place you needed to go to look for whatever files you desired.

Now, of course, high-capacity storage exists on everything from smartphones, to tablets, to PCs, to fingernail-sized storage cards, and the unlimited capacity of cloud-based storage services means it’s getting harder and harder to find the files, images or other data that we need. Plus, the amazing compute resources and connectivity options available on everything from the smallest wearables on up means it’s possible to do complex tasks across a huge range of computing devices.

Ironically, the more capable individual devices become, the more frustrating are the challenges that come with not having them work together more effectively.

The net result is a confusing mix of devices, platforms, services, and communications options that makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an organized digital life.

Several companies have made efforts to overcome these challenges, but most are intentionally limited to their own operating systems or other environments. Apple, for example, has had the ability to receive certain types of notifications that originate on iPhones onto Mac screens since the introduction of Continuity features in Mac OS X Yosemite, back in 2014.

Even having simple connections between multiple devices doesn’t always help, though. In fact, sometimes it gets downright annoying. Yes, I appreciate that a phone call to my iPhone will also appear on the screen of a Mac that I may be simultaneously using, but more often than not, I’m still going to answer on the phone. Plus, I don’t really appreciate every iOS device in sight starting to ring. Now, responding to a text or instant message is certainly easier with the full-sized keyboard of the connected Mac than tapping on an iPhone screen, but the fact that I (and the majority of other iPhone owners) are usually using a Windows PC along with an iPhone means this trick doesn’t do much good.

Microsoft is also attempting to address these multi-device issues. In the new Windows 10 Creators’ Edition update, the company has introduced a feature called Continue on PC that lets you move your browsing sessions from your smartphone to your PC. The setup process is a bit lengthy and it does require you to install an app on either your iOS or Android-based phone, but it’s a step in the right direction. A number of third-party vendors are also working on similar solutions, but the seamlessness of the experience and their overall effectiveness are still unknown.

There’s no question that we need to evolve our view and usage of multiple device scenarios into easy-to-use, easy-to-traverse everyday experiences.

With the increasing number of smart connected devices in our homes, the longer-term vision for these multi-device scenarios needs to expand as well. Samsung presented an intriguing vision of this concept at their recent developer’s conference in San Francisco, describing the ability to move certain tasks, such as automatically transferring over your exact location in reading a Facebook timeline from a Galaxy smartphone to a Samsung Smart TV. The devil is in the details for these kinds of applications, however, and while the concept sounds great, the execution of the idea remains to be seen. Plus, there is the concern that, like Apple, Samsung will limit these multi-device scenarios to its own branded products—something that would dramatically reduce its potential impact.

The process of moving from an individual device-focused world to one where all of our devices—regardless of brand or platform—can function together seamlessly is bound to be a long one. Overcoming the challenges necessary to make these multi-platform jumps isn’t easy and brand-centric thinking doesn’t help. Plus, doing these types of turnovers effectively is going to require a lot more intelligence about how, where, and for what applications we use our various devices. Most people do things a bit differently, so automatically customizing for individual habits is going to be essential for long-term success.

Despite these challenges, however, there’s no question that we need to evolve our view and usage of multiple device scenarios into easy-to-use, easy-to-traverse everyday experiences.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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BSim500

Posts: 683   +1,404
"Ever since the proliferation of different individual computing devices has occurred, people have been faced with a frustrating dilemma. How do you get your devices to work better together?"
Don't buy so many? If the problem is "sensory overload" trying to keep track of things, then maybe the solution involves "less is more" and more focussed usage? PC for heavy stuff, smartphone for mobile stuff, and everything else "I want to browse the net on my fridge / listen to music on my watch" is unnecessary duplication.

"Plus, there is the concern that, like Apple, Samsung will limit these multi-device scenarios to its own branded products—something that would dramatically reduce its potential impact."
^ Precisely. PDF, HTML, JPG and MP3 have done more for cross-device, cross-vendor compatibility than Apple and Microsoft ever will. If you own a reasonable number of devices and keep things simple, then you've already got cross-compatibility. If you're looking for for flawless compatibility of everything between different devices from vendors with notorious addictions to proprietary formats, etc, then you'll be waiting forever...
 

McMurdeR

Posts: 181   +142
A TV, a phone, a heavy weight pc, a light weight storage server, a tablet or two for the kids and a console, and we want for nothing.
 

Capaill

Posts: 1,200   +737
If Samsung can't even get casting to work from my Galaxy tablet to my Samsung Smart TV (I have tried their official fixes, they don't work), then I have zero confidence in what they are claiming in the article.
As @BSim500 said, the dilemma will continue as long as each company pushes its own proprietary solutions. Get everyone to agree on a secure Standard first, then work on the products. The same approach is needed in many areas like home automation, in-car entertainment, device charging (both cable and wireless). If the major players hammered out a single unifying Standard and built products for that, we could have an explosion of new products and integration - instead they all want to be first with their own profitable solution and they end up with nothing while the market limps along.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,201   +5,588
One argument that I recently heard is that there are a lot of companies that are not or cannot compete in the free marketplace so they create the own bits of proprietary equipment and software so they can lock their customers into their systems. The real power comes from the consumer who chooses them or chooses to ignore them. The simple fact is that "brand loyalty" rather than comparability. People want their own separate identity as well being* a part of something bigger. Once the masses band together and demand across the board comparability the marketplace will respond, but until then it is very much every man for themselves!
 
S

senketsu

Just like we rely on without thought services like clean water and electricity and this has allowed us a certain level of advancement (think a hospital), if our future is going to be high-tech, we will have to rely on basic foundations of our technological systems (the things we don't see that are essential for our devices) to be as safe and always available as water and power and I think we are a long way from this. Privacy issues, problems with software receiving timely patches, security issues, unless these are solved there will be no effective digital life, just the chaos we have now.
 
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BigMack70

Posts: 39   +34
For me the solution was to put together a NAS which is home to all my meaningful data (photos / work documents / etc). I can now easily sync everything across multiple devices easily and automatically with little to no maintenance on my part. Makes all my data remotely accessible via my phone or laptop and when I work remotely it all automatically syncs back to home, without relying on any 3rd party cloud servers or support. It's been such a significant QoL improvement that I don't know how I managed without it.
 
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Hexic

Posts: 722   +700
TechSpot Elite
The only issue that I have had in this regard is that for work I am issued an iPhone, however I prefer my personal S8+. Due to the incompatibilities of iMessage and standard SMS from Android, my solution has been Google Voice. I have a phone number from Google, that acts as a super class to all of my other mobile numbers. That way at work I do not need to lug around two devices to receive all of my SMS messages. That, and I can text from my computer (windows) and send and receive text messages from both my iPhone and my Android.

All of my normal text messages are stored under Google Hangouts, so if I need to wipe my iPhone, nothing is stored locally on my work phone. Unfortunately it's the best solution I can come up with thus far.
 
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Reehahs

Posts: 912   +569
I guess it is app dependent. I consider Skype to be the worse example of things can go wrong with multi-device software. When someone calls on Skype, it rings on my phone, desktop client, Windows app version, and in the browser through Hotmail. Sometimes, it does not stop ringing despite being answered on one device.
 

Boilerhog146

Posts: 642   +223
When all of our devices become self aware.they won't need us anymore :(. but windows 10 on phone and pc .is a step in the right direction. For contacts, pictures and music.getting Apple, m$ ,and google to work together seamlessly,will be the greatest hurdle.they want to be profitable and proprietary at the same time.They all want to be #1. That's where advancement hits the wall.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 5,321   +3,424
Personally, I do not need the interoperability.

I have only one calendar and health log on one device. They stay there, and it is always with me when I need to have it with me.

I have an older cellphone that I only use for calls and the occasional text message. It is always with me when I am out, and off when I am home since I still have a land line.

I have a portable DAC for music with a 128 GB sd card, and that is all I need for music.

Finally, I have several PCs at home for various functions - and I use them when I need them; in addition, one of them has a 4TB mirror raid for important files. I can store/download those files to any of my other devices with relative ease, but I almost never do this.

Interoperability is like expecting 10 different remote controls to flawlessly control every device that each of the others controls - maybe more likely these days, but there are solutions for that, too, like CommandFusion.