Hey there, blogosphere! Hope your 2020 is going well. My blog pace has slowed down in the last few months, but I’m still cruisin’ along here. This post is on the tech verve. Last week, my brain started to re-notice how single-purpose devices or services are often better than their multi-function counterparts. So here’s a re-visit of this tech topic.
One of the things that stands out clearly for single-purpose devices is their clear direction. It’s the fact that when you look at some ‘thing’, you know it does this one thing. Like old-school point-n-shoot cameras, when you see one, you know exactly what it does and what it’s for. It exists for one purpose: taking pictures (oh okay, videos too I guess, so “images” that are either still or moving). So simplicity and clarity are nice benefits of solo-function-focus.
There’s another great advantage to a mono-tasked gadget: capability. Sticking with the camera example, not only do you know exactly what it does, you know it excels at what it does. Every part of the camera is designed with the explicit purpose of taking great photos. They typically have more functions and buttons to control the photo-graphing experience and produce the one thing it lives for: pictures.
It’s pretty obvious that certain gadgets do one thing and do it well. While a smartphone or a tablet can do a lot of things, sometimes single-purpose gizmos are best. Besides a camera, I tend to note the eReader (e.g. a kindle) is best for simply reading lots of books. And hand-held gaming devices, like Nintendo’s 3DS line or the Switch, excel at gaming (dedicated buttons!) more than a phone or tablet. These are examples of hardware tailor-built to one certain task. But the single-purpose paradigm also benefits software.
Let’s start with the example of Microsoft Word. It’s a word processor made to do one thing: process words. Right? True, yet many people also know that Word was once a really simple program. But over the years, Word’s feature-set grew; its capabilities stretched beyond processing just words to processing whole documents of many sorts. Its simplicity in doing one thing was obscured by complexity, going beyond just typing and editing text.
Another good example of single-purpose software is a Journaling app. For many years, I used general note-taking apps for journaling in addition to storing all my notes across different subjects. Most general purpose note apps let you organize or distinguish your groups of notes, either in folders or with tags, for example. So I just set my journal entries apart as dictated by the notes-app. This worked well enough for bare bones journaling.
Then I found a dedicated journaling app that I actually like to use. Other note apps can store my daily musings, but a single-purpose journal app can do more and better, all while keeping things simple. The journal app I settled on is called, “Journey.” It has many features for journaling that a general multi-purpose note-app lacks, such as a calendar that shows your daily entries and a graph that shows your recorded moods over time. (For my more in-depth review of Journey, click this link.)
Since we’re talking about note apps, I should go ahead and note another category of single-purpose entities. Just as hardware and software can be singular-focused, so can software companies; they can be dedicated to doing one thing well. So both Apple and Google make many different software apps. In addition, Apple makes hardware, and now they also make services and entertainment content! Of the software, Apple makes a notes-app, and they also make Apple Music. While both are great, I’ve discovered that there’s an advantage to single-purpose companies for software and services.
Committed to notes, the company I like is Evernote. They exist to do one thing and do it remarkably well: create and maintain an app and cloud service for note taking. That’s it! They’re all about notes. The company’s purpose is laser-focused into a robust and reliable note-taking platform. All their energy and dedication go to providing people a way to record, store, and manage notes. Their reputation is banked on notes, nothing else. That’s their single-purpose.
And because they exist outside and independent of Apple or Google and those respective platforms, Evernote’s third-party status means they’re available everywhere. If you use them to take all your notes on an iPhone but then switch to an Android phone, you won’t lose your notes. Heck, you won’t need to migrate or transfer them either. Just sign-in on your new device and you’re good to go!
My last example is music. All the songs! I tried Apple’s and Google’s music streaming offerings…in the end, I settled with Spotify, a company with one function, a single-purpose: provide an awesome music service everywhere you are, be it on iPhone or Android or Windows or Chrome. All of Spotify’s resources are committed to excelling at this one thing: music streaming. Their mission is straightforward, and their vision is not clouded by side-projects. They just do music, and they stake their entire reputation on just that. So they strive to be the best at the one thing they do. As a Spotify subscriber, that gives me confidence in using their app and service across my Apple and Google devices.
So this post has kinda stacked the deck towards single-purpose things. But I do agree to the counter-notion that multi-use devices have their place too. As with most things, each person should weigh the pros and cons of whatever it is you are using or might consider using. Basically, smartphones are a “jack-of-all-trades” and master most of those multi-purpose skills. But as good as my iPhone is, sometimes a “real” camera is better. And I generally prefer my kindle for eReading.
You get the idea. So maybe think a little about what kind of device(s) you prefer. And go with what works best for ya.