Every Device Is A Swiss Army Knife
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
, especially if Everything Is Online
Do Anything Robots
and Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids
are exemplary examples, as well as Swiss Army Weapons
in general and Swiss Army Guns
in particular. Magic Tools
are the logical result of this trope, but 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, and Shoe Phones
, which have primary functions just as illogical.
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- Lampshaded by Eleya in Reality Is Fluid, who can't figure out why Starfleet Science thinks that "a nav deflector is for generating weird particles, not for pushing crap out of your way when you’re at warp."
- 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.
- In Spy Kids 2, one of the kids gets an experimental spy-watch with so many gadgets in it there was no room for an actual time-telling device.
- 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.
- The Lancrastian Army Knife in Carpe Jugulum 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 blade in there somewhere as well. 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. The Master's Laser Screwdriver, given who he is, adds a more lethal function. Exactly the one that the name would imply.
- "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. They only main difference is the video-call function, which was standard on all Globals and used all the time. While iPhone has FaceTime, and most smartphones have Skype, we're still far from reliable video calling while on the go.
- 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. Partially averted, in that there are actually several different kinds of tricorder, each for a different kind of scanning (most noticeably, the medical tricorder, with its separate detachable scanning widget).
- The Tricorder was even described as such on a History Channel special on the Star Trek prop auctions. Braga described the Tricorder as a "device to move the plot along".
- 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 May's 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.
- In Traveller Interstellar 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 cargoes in safe areas.
- The 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.
- In Mass Effect 3, omnitools can also form Hard Light blades. Okay, technically a red hot diamond, but that's even worse.
- 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.
- The Pip-Boy in the Fallout series is a self-generating map, GPS, scanner (with friend-or-foe recognition), geiger counter, inventory manager, health scanner, radio, and can store computer files. It is the perfect tool for a wasteland wanderer, but it was built for Vault dwellers who'd have little to no use for most of those functions. Presumably RobCo thought they were building a device for people who would actually be rebuilding human civilization.
- Axe Cop. His axe has dozens of functions (normal axe, axe-shooting gun, skateboard, guitar, etc.), and his mustache is a multifunction robot.
- 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.
- You can now get a Swiss Army Knife with a USB thumb drive and LED light here.
- 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 potatoes 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. Leon Trotsky, close to the end of his life, also happened to be involved in an ice-axe-as-weapon incident once.
- Namely, having one embedded in his chest.
- 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.
- Early human hand axes/bifaces. Used for pretty much any task people could imagine for hundreds of thousands of years: chopping, scraping, cutting, digging, drilling, stabbing, throwing, lighting fires, making more hand axes, you name it.
- Fire. It is used for cooking, toolmaking, war, and keeping warm in the winter.
- The human hand. All tools are based on this.
- Mammals. Specifically, their teeth. One of the defining traits of mammals is that the teeth of a mammal include both shearing/cutting front teeth and canines and grinding/crushing molars. This allows them to eat a wide variety of foods, from soft plants, tender meats and hard seeds and nuts.