E-readers will be nothing more than a fading memory in three years. They're a single-function fad that notebooks and net-tabs will squeeze from the market faster than desktop PCs chased away word processing machines in the 1980s.
Amazon, the early e-reader leader, might have done more for the cause by taking a lesson from Gillette and giving away the proverbial razor to promote blade sales. But while a strategy like that might have improved Amazon's position in the short term, it would not have been enough to stop multipurpose devices from obsoleting e-readers.
GPS devices will survive. GPS capabilities are being integrated into a host of devices. But when it comes right down to it, the utility of a GPS device plummets once you park your car. Sure, there are some folks who travel enough to make it worthwhile to pay their wireless carrier a service fee for the capability on phones. The rest of us can enjoy the larger screens of our dedicated GPSes and leave them in the car once we get where we're going.
Media players and cell phones will continue to coexist. Why? For the same reason that net-lets (the term's already getting irritating, isn't it?) and notebooks can coexist. Most cell phones can do everything media players can: play or stream music or video. Yet many of us listen to music or watch video on our media players. Why? Because we're not willing to drain the phone battery on a fun application at the expense of the indispensable application: telephony.
The same holds true for the PC. I've used my pocket-sized media player to watch a movie on a cross-country flight--even when I've had the same video on my notebook--because I needed the PC for work once I landed. Net-lets (sorry!), with their larger displays, would be an appealing alternative.
The final count: Four mobile devices, as well as some site-specific gadgets like GPS, have a future. (Connected kitchen devices also hold promise.) But of those four, it's important to distinguish the two indispensible devices--phones and notebooks--from the other two. Media players and net-lets will live on until phones and notebooks can provide those applications without risking their indispensable uses.
At that point, net-lets (last time, promise) and media players will dissipate, and once again we'll be left with two devices: one in the pocket, and one in the bag.
Now, where have I heard that before?
Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research firm. As this column went to press, Feibus was headed to La Isla Margarita, Venezuela, for a windsurfing vacation, having packed his smartphone, media player, notebook and VoIP Wi-Fi phone. Oh, and a digital camera.