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Many faces, one brain: the future of device integration technology

By Evan Wade / June 5, 2013

Remember when the Motorola Atrix signaled the beginning of device integration technology? If not, don’t worry. There aren’t many people who do. Motorola’s former flagship phone was simply ahead of its time, with its fingerprint scanner and then impressive dual-core processor. But the Atrix’s real differentiator was the optional lapdock, which transformed the phone into a computer.

History might put the pricey accessory in the gimmick column, but its legacy lives on in a number of devices people use today. The difference? Today’s toys are a lot more powerful — and they work with the devices users already own. Even if your smartphone isn’t ready to replace all your other devices, it can certainly augment the hardware you have in place.

Basic input

Think of all the tools your phone uses to make your life easier. Its cameras, accelerometers and LED lights can perform any number of functions, and when you pair them with talented developers and compatible hardware, things get really interesting. Apple’s Remote app, which turns your iOS device into a controller for first-party products like iTunes and Apple TV, is perhaps the best-known application of device integration, but it’s far from the only one. With the right software and a suitable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, a smart device can become anything from a trackpad to a video game controller.

Built for entertainment

With the recent XBox One unveiling, Microsoft made it clear that device integration tech is a large part of their push for living room domination. SmartGlass is a great proof of concept, and you don’t even have to wait for the One to get your mitts on it. With an existing XBox 360 and compatible smart device, you can turn your second screen into an all-in-one media companion for your console. The app also gives gamers extra functionality between their phones and their games. For instance, one player might wield the controller while another uses their phone as a map to guide his buddy through the levels.

True mobile OS

With open-sourced operating systems like Ubuntu for Phones, we’re beginning to see why the Atrix’s ill-fated laptop dock was such a novel idea. The OS changes the way it works depending on the device you use, meaning an experience tailored to your environment. If you’ve ever tried to click the “Start” button on an old-school Windows device, you see exactly how useful that kind of optimization can be. Even better, Ubuntu’s lower-end phones still use cloud services and other technical trickery to bring full-featured desktop apps to the small screen.

What’s in it for you?

These are just a few examples of the many ways devices of all kinds are starting to converge. Whether your company’s a big dog or a small fish, finding a useful, non-gimmicky way to align your product or service with the trend is hardly a bad idea. Your specific solution will depend on your specific business, but if it looks good, works well and requires minimal attachments, you’ll be well on your way to integrated success.