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All devices have mass customization.

Remember the good old days when a phone was just for calling people? Remember when game consoles and handhelds were for precisely games? Not so anymore. In a more contemporary (and/or futuristic) setting where folks have high expectations in terms of technology, any device that doesn't have multiple functions beyond its initial one is better of being classed off as Crapola Tech even when it genuinely does work. The general logic of the "jack of all trades" convenience being superior to the specialized frequently plays a part in this. And on certain occasions, Spy Fiction will feature technology of this caliber, particularly in the form of weaponized vehicles. A common joke related to this is that the machine is so complicated, people can't figure out how to use it for its intended purpose. Most definitely Truth in Television.

See Do-Anything Robot for the humanoid example of this. Related to Everything Is Online. See also Super Powered Robot Meter Maid. See Shoe Phone for when its primary function differs from the one you'd expect from its appearance. You might see a lot of Swiss Army Weapons and Swiss Army Guns in a setting which uses this trope extensively. Taken to the extreme it might result in a Green Lantern Ring. Contrast When All You Have Is a Hammer which is where a device is used in this way regardless of its actual flexibility.

Examples of Every Device Is a Swiss Army Knife include:


Film

  • Played for Laughs with Randall Peltzer's inventions in Gremlins. Particularly the Bathroom Buddy.
  • Our Man Flint. Flint's lighter has has 82 different functions...83, if you wish to light a cigar.

Literature

  • A Stanislaw Lem short story about rival companies making more and more complex washing machines.
  • Subverted in Larry Niven's short story "The Soft Weapon". Archeologists find a weapon from a precursor race that has multiple functions. The heroes eventually realize that this weapon is much too complicated for front-line troops, so it must be a spy's weapon. They then trick the villains into activating its Self-Destruct Mechanism.
  • Obligatory Discworld example: the Lancrastian Army Knife in Carpe Jugulum, which has a number of strange and metaphysical features such as the Device for Ascerting the Truth of a Given Statement and the Attachment for Winning Ontological Arguments. There's probably a [1] in there somewhere as well...
    • A Swiss Army Knife with an alethiometer attachment sounds pretty useful, actually.
    • Its only weakness is that it needs a wheelbarrow to move around.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who: The Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver. It can (of course) unlock anything but a deadlock and wooden structures, it can scan for nearly anything, and it can do all kinds of hacking with its psychic interface. It cannot, however, triplicate the flammability of port.
  • "Globals" in Earth: Final Conflict were a spot-on prediction of smart phones from back in the mid-nineties. Looking at the way the characters use them (like pocket sized laptops), they could easily be iPhones or Droids. They even have a camera function.
  • In the Star Trek universe, the deflector dish's role is to push particles and small objects out of the way so they don't collide with the ship at warp speed. Throughout Voyager, however, the deflector dish was somehow "reconfigured" to do just about anything, becoming a common Deus Ex Machina.
    • On a smaller nature was the Starfleet Tricorder, essentially an iPod that did anything the plot demanded. Except, oddly enough, be a communicator.
    • In addition to their use as lethal and nonlethal weapons, phasers can be used as cutting tools, incinerators, space heaters or hot plates (in conjunction with a convenient stone), or improvised explosives.
  • James Mays Man Lab created the Swiss Army Bike, which is a normal, ridable bike that also has a squeegee for cleaning windows, a grindstone, a drill, a sprayer for creosote, and a blender.

New Media

Tabletop Games

  • In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Lightning class is a Cool Starship version of this, being able to be a trader, an explorer, and a privateer. It's chief disadvantage is it's low payload which keeps it from carrying cheap cargos in safe areas.

Video Games

  • Omnitool in Mass Effect is a bracelet that acts as a set of tools for a ship mechanic, a lockpick, a number of scanners, a communicator/laptop and an EMP weapon capable of overloading enemy shields. It also assists with weapon maintenance/modification and can fabricate small components out of raw materials. The name says it all, really.
    • Even worse is omnigel. Everything is made of omnigel, and you can smear this 'gel' on everything to open it up.
  • An almost literal example in Kingdom of Loathing is the Loathing Legion Knife. 20 functions, doing pretty much everything from increasing rollover adventures to replacing the untinkerer. The hardest part is remembering which part of the inventory it's supposed to be in.
  • In Grim Fandango, Manny's scythe can and will be used for practically everything, from opening vaults to locking cupboards, to digging through litter boxes, to fighting.

Web Comics

  • Axe Cop. His axe has dozens of functions (normal axe, axe-shooting gun, skateboard, guitar, etc.), and his mustache is a multifunction robot.

Western Animation

  • One episode of Time Squad had Buck getting a brand-new laser gun with a myriad of functions...so many, in fact, that he couldn't figure out how to make it shoot lasers.
  • Every device available to Inspector Gadget had this nature.

Real Life

  • You can now get a Swiss Army Knife with a USB thumb drive and LED light [1].
  • Modern PCs in general.
  • How often do you use your smartphone to call someone, as opposed to texting, surfing the web, taking pictures, listening to music, playing games, getting directions...?
  • Apple achieved success with the iPhone and iPad by deliberately avoiding the worst aspects of this trope. Both iProducts defeated more powerful and versatile competitors by offering only the most popular functions out of the box and streamlining them to be as user friendly as possible rather than trying to 'open a whole new world of possibilities' like other companies' flagships.
  • The Ice Ax is the meat and potatos of mountain climbers. It can be used to feel the depth and texture of the ground, to chop a grip in the ice, or to anchor a rope. It can even be used as a very handy weapon, assuming you have such a need: one noted hero in the Indian army used it in this way while storming a hill during the Indian-Pakistani wars.
  • Paperclips. Those can be used for any of the surprisingly many chores for which an inch or so of bendable wire might be desired. Including even fastening papers together.

Notes

  1. which will, by the way, win an ontological argument in a pretty permanent way
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