Optimizing for the device at hand

Many tech and productivity blogs promote device convergence: with a single smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you’re ready for almost any activity, from gaming to video production. After years of experience with assorted tech gear, I’ve found convergence overrated. It’s the exact opposite – device specialization – that’s a lot more effective.

More concretely, the next time you unlock your phone or sit down in front of your laptop, ask yourself: “what works best here for my needs?” Isolate the apps that you use regularly and that feel natural in context; keep them on your home screen or otherwise easily accessible. Bury the rest in folders knowing full well you’ll probably be faster and more efficient if you wait to perform those activities on another device.

For me, multi-device specialization translates into a set workflow:

  • My iPhone is used for quick reads of the news (NYTNow), short saved articles (Pocket), catching up on Twitter (Tweetbot) and the occasional quick puzzle game (Threes).

  • My iPad is for daily scans of news feeds (Mr. Reeder), long reads (again, Pocket) and classic strategy games (Hearthstone, Ticket to Ride) that don’t rely on awkwardly tacked-on control schemes.

  • My Macbook Air is mostly used for writing, development, and design.

  • The PS4 is optimized for most of my gaming needs. It’s essential for any game that plays better with traditional controller input. With the comfort and immersion factor of a large screen and sound system, it’s also ideal for play sessions longer than thirty minutes at a time.

There are exceptions to the above (e.g. occasional writing edits on Writer Pro with my iPhone when I’m in the subway), but I’m generally more productive if I delay work until I reach the right device. I also happen to be someone who actively uses all this gear; some may successfully embrace a simpler workflow around a single device. But that’s not for me, and I suspect it isn’t for many others.

Overall, if you’ve found yourself struggling with your device’s size, context, power, or input method for certain activities, try changing your workflow. Move away from convergence and toward multi-device specialization.