I had a conversation on Twitter today regarding the long-term future of the currently wildly successful GoPro cameras. It had struck me that GoPro might well go the same way as, say GPS manufacturers like TomTom or at a greater extreme manufacturers of compact digital stills cameras. Both of those markets have been eroded significantly with the rise of “good enough” smartphone capabilities.

“But who would want to stick a smartphone on their crash helmet?” was the early response. But ruggedized smartphones are a category that will surely emerge, and when they do,would a specialised device still triumph over a general purpose one? Inevitably you’ll want to have streaming on your extreme sports camera, and once a 4G SIM card and circuitry is in there, it might as well be a smartphone.

In some instances a dedicated bit of hardware will be really useful. My favourite device, ever, the Roland TR808 drum machine has been reincarnated in the form of the TR-8, a machine that bears a superficial resemblance, but is otherwise utterly different inside. However, something like music performance is a remarkably physical, tactile thing and dedicated devices with knobs and switches and buttons make a lot of sense. Touchscreens are not great for emulating such physical complexity.

A GoPro has, basically, one button. GoFigure.

We are at the beginning of a new wave of device form factors if the Wearable hype is to be believed. But the buzz seems to be with multi-purpose devices (glasses, watches) with Apps rather than deeply specialised gizmos. Will we see deep specialism return to hardware in time, or will software conquer all?

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