The AudioFile: Gadget-On-Gadget Love

Please, world, take a break from thinking about the iPhone. Believe it or not, there are other cool devices coming very soon that will combine music and communications. The difference is, they aren’t convergence devices in the conventional sense: They communicate and interact with each other instead of trying to swallow each other whole. I may sound like a hippie, but it seems to me all your gadgets should get along — it’s way more secure than having your one vulnerable super-gizmo.

The Language Barrier
Right now, Bluetooth is common on cell phones, but nary an MP3 player on the market has that feature. Yeah, I said “nary.” Shut up. Yet WiFi is all the rage in the current crop of music players, keeping most phones and MP3 players isolated from each other.

This is going to sound funny coming from someone who has been notoriously skeptical of Bluetooth — at least, as an audio transmission solution — but I think Bluetooth could and should play a bigger role in our daily digital lives. It is capable of transmitting audio and data well enough for many purposes, if not high-fidelity music, plus it uses very little power. This power remains virtually untapped… but not for long.

Take Samsung’s forthcoming Yepp YP-T9B flash-based MP3 player: It rocks built-in Bluetooth, so you can pair it with your phone. This may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out you can actually use it to make and take phone calls too–the headphones and built-in voice recorder mic act as the handset.

The audio signal travels via Bluetooth back and forth between your phone and the T9B, so you don’t even have to fish your phone out of your pants or backpack. It’ll even store numbers, so it’s like a backup of your rolodex.

My gut instinct tells me this is a very smart convergence idea and will almost certainly drive a new trend.

Going the Distance
The biggest concern most people have with the idea of an all-in-one gadget is battery life. And rightfully so–there’s only one thing worse than your music player running out of juice: your music player and your phone crapping out simultaneously. And once your jackass-of-all-trades is done for the day, you lose access to whatever functions it might handle, like calendars, music, phone calls, and even email.

Sadly, we’re not as close to high-output 100-hour batteries as we like to think — I’ll estimate, say, 2 years from now, we’ll have readily available batteries sufficient to satisfy most consumers. At least with separate devices, you can offload duties to multiple power supplies. And when one goes dead, you’ve still got something that works.

Battery drain isn’t as much of a problem with Bluetooth, since it’s more efficient than Wi-Fi and will get better with age (and new releases).

Battle of the Bulge
One bugaboo of multiple gadgets is pocket bulge — something I’ve become hyper-aware of lately. (Hey, that’s what happens when you review small consumer electronics for a living.) The obvious solution is to look for gadgets that are slim enough that they won’t take up too much space — cameras with folded nonprotruding optical zoom lenses like the Nikon Coolpix S series, slim phones like the Motorola SLVR, and thin flash players a la the iPod nano.

Of course, it would help if manufacturers made things more scratchproof, not to mention slimmer.

Love and Loss
Ahh, the importance of backing up your digital stuff. Virtually no one does it, no matter how many times tech journalists preach it, but it’s a simple way to avoid tears and pulling your hair out. You should be able to sync things like music, calendars, and photos across multiple gadgets in case of device failure, liquid spillage, lossdue to drunkenness, theft, and myriad other things that often befall small electronics. Wirelessly and automatically, of course.

Where Do We Go Now?
This is the year of connectivity. We’re going to see new Bluetooth-enabled devices from some major manufacturers that may change your thinking about how gadgets can overlap and enhance each other.

Okay. Now back to your regularly scheduled iPhone daydreams.

The illustration above was done by Leah Perrotta, a Brooklyn-based artist and all-around lovely gal.