What's simpler: Using a PC, tablet and smartphone, or having one device that does everything?
One device that does everything, obvs. The problem is, that device doesn't exist, and given current technology, it probably shouldn't.
"I really don't think this notion of the killer device is going to be relevant anymore," said Bob O'Donnell, an IDC program vice president, at last week's IDC Directions conference in Boston.
Does that mean technology will cease to be simple? No. It means consumerization is challenging our definition of simplicity.
Traditionally, we've associated simplicity with consolidation. In IT, for example, it's simpler to manage disparate systems through one console, instead of using multiple tools. And in the consumer market, it's simpler to have an iPhone than it is to have a cellphone and an iPod and a camera and a GPS unit.
But there comes a point where this consolidation doesn't work anymore, and we've pretty much reached that point now when it comes to personal devices. The three main device types -- PCs, tablets and smartphones -- have some unique, defining characteristics that can't easily be duplicated on other form factors. You can't fit a PC in your pocket, and as O'Donnell said at Directions, you wouldn't want to write a term paper on a smartphone. Attempts to replicate these unique characteristics on other devices often yield awkward results (see: people taking pictures with iPads or making phone calls with the Samsung Galaxy Note).
That doesn't mean we've reached a point where further simplicity is impossible. We just have to look for it in different places. Enter the personal cloud.
In the personal cloud era—which Gartner says will overtake the personal computer era by 2014 -- the notion of simplicity focuses on data, not devices. Users want to be able to access their data (and applications) wherever they are, on whatever device is most suitable at the time. And in this area, there's plenty of opportunities to simplify. So many vendors, from the giants to the startups, offer their own consumer cloud storage services, raising serious interoperability, usability and supportability issues.
If you're in IT, there's no easy solution to this problem. But the new definition of simplicity should be front and center. If your users are bringing their own smartphones, tablets and/or PCs to work, that doesn't necessarily mean your job is going to get three or four times more complex. You still have the same amount of data to manage, and if you focus on making that data securely accessible from multiple devices, your job—and your users' jobs—will become simpler.