If you are doing construction and you have a screw, you need a screwdriver. If you have a nail you need a hammer. Having the right tools to do the right job is something that is incredibly useful. The more tools you have, the power you have behind them, the faster and the more efficient you can be at your job. This has been true for millennium. Having just one tool to fit all your needs typically results in inefficiency over specialized tools.
Yet in this digital age, more and more products are running into the exact problem in the consumer market. Most companies assume that the consumer wants to be able to do as much as possible with one device and therefore design around that. But that comes with huge inefficiencies, complications and power issues.
There’s an article over at MacRumors that talks about different things that gives the iPad a leg up over other tablet designs that has spurred this thought. In it, they point out that comparing the RAM in a iPad to other tablets is very misleading. This is due to all software being written for it being able to make the most of the chip and system structure of the hardware. With Android (and soon to be released Windows and WebOS systems) you have the situation of the OS being deigned one way, the hardware designed another, and the software trying to run on everything. This results in wasted power. Wasted cycles. And for the consumer, wasted money and time.
For the consumer the raw power doesn’t matter. Yes it’s nice to know that my phone has more power than your phone. Or my Tablet has more space than your’s, but that is just a mental exercise for most. What matters is how it reacts. Is it fast? Is it speedy? If a programmer knows exactly the specs their application will run on, they can squeeze every last ounce of performance out of the hardware. If you have to guess you have to start guessing, and that results in waste.
And that brings us back to the original problem. If you have a screw, use a screwdriver. There’s a reason the assembly line exists. One person screwing all the screws, and another nailing the nails is faster than if you have those same two people switch back and forth depending on what is in front of them. This is essentially what non-vertical platforms are running into. A program has to run on the OS it’s designed for (so far so goo) as well as use the resources the hardware gives it. Which means if this phone has twice as much ram, the program can’t make use of it, because other devices won’t. You have to pair everything down to the lowest common denominator in order to allow all the devices to use it.
Hardware manufactures have the opposite issue from the app developers. You can design a great phone with tons of RAM, and high-end graphics, and a multitude of ports… but without a standard, no one will design anything to take advantage of it. All these apps are designed to run on all devices, so all the extra horsepower just gets wasted. All it adds is weight, time to design, and most importantly to the consumer… cost. It would be the equivalent of putting a Ferrari engine in an old Honda car. Sure you have the horsepower, but you can’t make use of it.
and RIM (scratch that… looks like RIM’s playbook will be supporting Android apps as well) have a great advantage of being a vertical market. They design the hardware, the operating system, and can hand those specs to the app developers. Even back in the computer age this mattered. Now, in the portable age, with devices and hardware requirements even more tight, it matters even more. Companies that can make their products act faster is more important than the best specs. This is the true advantage of these devices.
Want a devices that does everything and is completely customizable? There’s a phone and tablet for that. Want something that is efficient, fast and has apps that can take advantage of all your device’s features? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason the iPad is as popular as it is. Sometimes if all you have is nails, then it’s ok to just have a hammer.