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Mobile devices: Too much of a good thing?

If you own five or more mobile devices, you may be suffering from device overload

By Mary Brandel, Network World
May 06, 2013 06:06 AM ET

Network World - Most of us have apparently decided we can't live without our favorite mobile device. Whether on public transportation, shopping or just walking down the street, you're more likely than not to be surrounded by people swiping screens, adjusting their earbuds or typing on a virtual screen.

But while a mobile device is increasingly seen as a must-have, what happens when one   increases to two, three or more? After all, the number of mobile devices owned by the average U.S. subscriber today is 1.57, according to Wireless Intelligence, the research arm of the GSM Association, and 1.85 in the rest of the world. By the end of 2013, there will be more Internet-connected mobile devices than people, according to  Cisco's Visual Networking Index.

According to Google, 90% of us juggle four screens in a day (smartphone, PC, tablet, TV), often starting a task on one device and completing it on another (called “sequential screening”) or using multiple devices at the same time (“simultaneous screening”).  Nine out of 10 people are sequential screeners, according to Google, while 77% watch TV with another device in hand.

It’s only natural, then, to ask: Is there such a thing as too many mobile devices? In today’s world of “too much information,” perhaps there is a companion trend: hardware overload.

[ALSO: Mobile devices drive growth]

Streamlining Devices

David Collins, IT infrastructure manager at Residential Finance, a national mortgage lender in Columbus, Ohio, is consciously winnowing down his current count of five devices to just two. His list includes an Android-based smartphone, a Windows-based netbook, an Android-based tablet, and two laptops, one for work and another for personal use. Additionally, he is evaluating two Windows-based tablets for his company’s use.   

By the end of 2013, there will be more Internet-connected mobile devices than people, according to  Cisco's Visual Networking Index.

The personal laptop, he says, will likely be the first to go. “It’s still viable, but because I’m device-heavy, I want to streamline down to what I really need and want.” And maybe, he says, he could live without the netbook, which – at least before he acquired the tablet and work laptop -- he used for work meetings and personal activities, like co-directing a vocal group. “I could do attendance and have PDFs of our music – it was easier on the netbook than the smartphone,” he says.

But with its larger screen, significantly higher processing power and remote access tools, the tablet is preferable, he says. He can store not just his music PDFs but also his recorded accompaniment tracks, and he can also access his desktop remotely. The one remaining advantage of the netbook is its Windows functionality. “While I can remote in from the Android tablet, sometimes it’s nice to work natively in the Windows OS using the remote desktop,” he says.

Of course, with his recently acquired work laptop – a 15-inch Ultrabook that is sturdier, more powerful and lighter than the 3-year-old netbook -- he’s now able to do just that. “Anywhere I go now, it’s a tossup between [the netbook], the tablet or my work laptop,” he says. Because his office encourages employees to keep their data and applications on their desktops and remotely access their PCs via a secure VPN, Collins can use any of his devices to do that, in addition to using Evernote and other cloud technologies to synch files. “As long as I’ve got an Internet connection, I can get what I need,” he says.

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