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How to Turn Your Digital Devices into an Ecosystem?

— March 24, 2020

As you will see, this new multi-device world opens up many new opportunities to innovate not only by looking into future needs and use cases that will naturally arise but also through rethinking some of our existing design approaches to current challenges. 

In today’s era, we are surrounded by multiple devices. Interactions with these devices enable us to search, navigate, connect, buy, learn and interact in our daily lives.

Digital devices are a physical unit that contains a computer or microcontroller. Smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches are the best examples of digital devices. We also have non-digital devices (analog) such as thermometers and electric fans. Automobiles, dryers, and other devices are both analog and digital

According to Zachary Davies Boren in 2014, the number of active mobile devices and human beings crossed over somewhere around 7.19 billion. GSMA’s real-time tracker puts the number of mobile devices at 7.22 billion whilst the U.S. Census Bureau says the number of people is still somewhere between 7.19 and 7.2 billion. By this year 2020, the number is expected to pass 24 billion. This inconceivable quantity not only proves the growing role of these devices in our digital lives but also indicates an increasing number of devices per person.

Since each device plays an important role in our daily activities, their real potential shows how they are used together. This multi-device usage sets the foundation for the product ecosystem.

The concept of ecosystem

The term ecosystem is used by biologists to describe interconnections within our natural nature – a society of living organisms (plants, animals, and microbes) in conjunction with nonliving components of their environment (elements like air, water, and mineral soil), interacting as a system. 

In the world of digital devices, the ecosystem is defined as a group of devices creating one collaborative network. In this network, interactions within each device use the contents and the flow between these devices, in a different context, en route to their goals.

MacBook Pro near black Nintendo Switch, and game controller set; image by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos, via
MacBook Pro near black Nintendo Switch, and game controller set; image by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos, via

If you are a designer or a product creator, the main goal is to understand the different relationships between connected devices, as well as how an individual interacts with them, in order to create natural, fluid multi-device experiences that allow these dynamic changes. These experiences must focus on how the increasing set of connected devices best serves your needs as they move between activities and context throughout the day.

The 3Cs Framework: Consistent, Continuous, and Complementary

In this era of proliferating connected devices, one goal is becoming clear: clients want to see their products on as many screens as possible. At the very least, we’ll need to get a product up and running across the basic, core set of screens already deeply embedded in our daily lives: the smartphone, tablet, PC, and TV.

How do we handle this design complexity, given the myriad devices on the market already (and those that are on the way)? How should we approach a multi-device experience design without overwhelming our users, and being overwhelmed ourselves?

To succeed a framework is adopted, that has proven to be durable and immensely relevant for approaching ecosystem design. I call the framework 3Cs: consistent, continuous, and complementary.

Consistent Design

In consistent design, the same basic experience is replicated between devices, keeping the content, flow, structure, and core feature set consistent across the ecosystem. Some adjustments are made to accommodate device-specific attributes (mainly screen size and interaction model), but overall the experience can be fully consumed, in an independent manner, on any device.

Spotify is the best example of consistent design, it enables its users to stream and browse music everywhere-their computer, tablet, and their home entertainment systems.

Consistent Design provides access at any time convenient to you but it doesn’t capture the full potential of a digital ecosystem. It overlooks several notable factors involved in your experience: context (granting the right thing at the right time), multi-device relationships (interactions of each device), determining the best device for the task, and scaling the experience to a fully connected world. (goes beyond smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TV’s).

To address these needs, we need two additional design building blocks – continuous and complementary design.

Continuous design

Continuous design is that the experience is transferred from one device to another. There are two ways in which this continuous user flow can be broken down: a single activity flow and a sequenced activity flow. 

Single activity flow is activities such as watching a movie or writing a document done throughout the different contexts (e.g. at work, school, or public places). 

In Sequenced activity flow, the user typically goes through a number of different activities to complete her end goal. These steps can be done in different locations, at different times and with different devices being available and/or most convenient for each activity. The fact that each step can be of a very specific nature or have a different duration, has an impact on the way we design for this continuous experience.

Complementary design

Whereas the consistent and continuous design approaches center around a single device, the complementary approach is all about user interaction with at least two devices – usually simultaneously – at any given moment. This experience can include two forms of device relationship: collaboration and control.

Collaboration – different devices, each with its own unique role, work together collaboratively to construct the whole user experience.

Control – The user’s primary experience takes place with a particular device, while other devices control aspects of that experience, usually remotely.

The 3Cs provides a framework for thinking about how you can accomplish a single goal using multi-devices. It focuses on people, looking at the relationships between them (individuals and their devices) and how to support them in their task flow to achieve their goal.

Electronic Ecosystem

By multi-devices revolution, the fast-growing number and diversity of connected devices – smartphones, smartwatches, PC’s, TV’s, smart glasses to any physical object that can be connected to the internet via sensor. However, this revolution is not characterized just by new screen sizes, input methods, form factors, or increasing processing power. It also introduces new ways these multiple devices enable us to connect, operate, interact, work, and affect our surroundings—ways we didn’t have before.

The first thing that led the electronic revolution were the iPhones released in 2007 by Apple. The Android platform, introduced officially in October 2008, significantly reinforced smartphone adoption, with new types of devices from various manufacturers being offered at a lower cost. In July 2008, Apple launched its App Store for iPhone, and the mobile space was open for business. In April 2010, Apple expanded its family and introduced the iPad to the world. In parallel, Google stirred up the tablet market, even more, releasing Android OS for tablets in 2011 and gaining a 39 % market share within less than a year. There was another interaction effect created by tablets, one that demonstrates the strength of (and need for) multi-device experiences. According to a 2012 Nielsen Company survey, 88 % of tablet owners and 86 % of smartphone owners said they used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period.

The three processes just described—smartphones becoming a commodity, application stores gaining speed, and tablets joining the party—all contributed to the emergence of an ecosystem, with four devices at its core: the smartphone, tablet, PC, and TV.

In this ecosystem, a few important principles emerge:

  • We are in the midst of an important behavioral shift to a multi-device model; product design is no longer just about the desktop platform because there’s a prosperous ecosystem of connected devices that complements it, and that continues to grow.
  • These connected devices can form a multi-device experience as a connected group (rather than just a set of solo devices). In other words, the ecosystem experience can employ any of the three design approaches—consistent, continuous, and complementary—or a combination of them.
  • The ecosystem is not bound to the four core devices. These devices are currently the most commonly used, and thus serve as the basis; however, as more connected devices are introduced, they can join the ecosystem, further expanding the contexts of use and device relationships it accommodates.
  • The more we embrace the potential of an ecosystem by adapting the experience per device and building the required bridges between them (acknowledging the different use cases in varying contexts), the more we can simplify the experience on each device, and provide an overall holistic experience that is greater than its parts.


At this point in time, we should focus on learning. We should explore and experiment with building multi-device experiences that can continuously drive us to create better products. 

As you will see, this new multi-device world opens up many new opportunities to innovate not only by looking into future needs and use cases that will naturally arise but also through rethinking some of our existing design approaches to current challenges. 

The latter is where much of the power lies: disrupting general perceptions and assumptions regarding what is possible in light of the new ecosystem possibilities we have.

If you want to know more about the digital devices into an ecosystem, check out our other tech-focused content over at NetBookNews.

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