Specialization vs. Versatility

Here is a neat little trick for sparking debate among gadget nerds: when discussing any device simply point out one of two things:

  1. A different device does better at a specific function
  2. A different device that has an additional function.

Sound complicated? Here are a pair of simple examples:

  1. Talking about a smartphone: “A DSLR takes much better pictures…”
  2. Talking about a DSLR: “A smartphone let’s you post those pictures to Facebook…”

This is an indication of the fantastic situation that we find ourselves in: For most anything we want a device to do, there are plenty of options. Those options represent a scale of benefits and compromises. Using the example above, a phone can take good pictures (great pictures even), is easy to carry  and does lots of other things. But a good camera can be designed around taking great pictures. Choosing the right one depends on your priorities. Neither is wrong, but one could clearly be better for a specific person.

The modern smartphone is remarkably versatile. In many ways it provides enough functionality to replace a number of devices for the average person. It can be a suitable camera and quite capable as a media player. But how far does this extend? What about for social media or email? For some users a phone is their primary computing device and could be all they need. But a phone has limitations and compromises. The small size that makes it easy to carry around limits what can be done.

So now we have tablets. The larger size makes it possible to do more but at the same time make them less convenient to carry around. And then there are laptops, which cover a large range of sizes and processing power. And desktop computers where the priority is put on power and screen size.

It can be easy to say that one class of devices will make another obsolete. And while it is true that a phone can by the primary (or even sole) computing device for some people, that doesn’t mean that other categories of devices are doomed. Just like there are reasons to buy a dedicated camera instead of exclusively using the one in your phone, there are reasons that a desktop computer is still a good choice for certain applications.

Versatility is great, but there are times and applications that call for specialization.

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