Thursday, March 09, 2006

Convergence, is it really a good idea?

Following on from the UMPC/Origami/touch screen video IPod/Apple tablet news, rumors and speculation I have been thinking about the convergence. For those who don’t know convergence (in this sense at least) refers to combining multiple functions into one device, the end goal being that rather than having a PDA, mobile phone, music player, video player, gaming system, portable internet station, ultra portable laptop and Sat Nav system you would have one device that could perform all these functions. Despite being talked about at virtually every technology keynote for the past three years, there are very few devices which have managed to even integrate two or three of the above functions with any amount of success, let alone all 8.

One of the issues standing in the way of convergence at the moment is simple the cost, combining 8 devices which separately cost at least $100 each suddenly leaves you with one very expensive device, as can be seen with the UMPC. For $1000 your get a device which should be able to do almost everything listed above (with the exception of mobile phone functionality) but has very limited battery life, is far too big to use as an mp3 player in most real world situations (such as working out at the gym), doesn’t have the publisher/developer support or interface to replace a DS or PSP, can’t be carried in a pocket limiting its usefulness as a PDA and has no keyboard making it a weak replacement to a laptop. Not to mention you still need a dedicated mobile phone. Basically for $1000 you get a device that really doesn’t do anything particularly well apart from possibly video playback and wireless internet connectivity.

This brings us to the big issue stopping convergence at the moment, some of these devices simply don’t compliment each other. My mobile phone or PDA needs to be fairly small, small enough to fit it in a pocket at very least, on the other hand when looking at an ultra portable laptop, internet station or video player I would want a least a 4 inch screen, and really something more like 6 inch+, particularly for the laptop. Similarly with a mp3 player I want it to be as small and light as possible, if I want to go for a walk/jog I should be able to easily slip it in a pocket or strap it to me arm and not even notice it. This is a fundamental difference in the interface/presentation of each device, with current display technology there is never going to be a device that works well as both an mp3 player and a portable laptop, they simply have a totally different and incompatible list of requirements and expectations.

The few convergence devices which have been successful have succeeded for very reason that they were complimentary. For example try finding a PDA now that doesn’t offer mobile phone functionality or for that matter a phone without some basic PDA functionality. Have much luck?

Both these devices have the same requirements, both are should be small enough to fit in your pocket, both are meant carried with you at all times, both have battery life measured in days rather than hours, the screen size required is not huge with the overall device size being more important, often the two devices store the same information such as contact details, both devices are used primarily for short text and number input meaning their interfaces are similar. These are two devices which should be together, you could argue that should always have been integrated. That is how convergence should work.

Sat Nav also now being added to these phone/PDA which again seems to be a perfect combination, so long as the screen is a decent size which is becoming more common on phones. Music playback is another option many are looking at on phones but this is not such a neat fit, as many are finding, a music device needs a simple quick interface, not a complex mini keyboard, phones need to last a least a few days without requiring a charge under normal use, most mp3 player can’t provide this if left on all day, phone memory is counted in MBs not the GBs needed for music. These issues are starting to be countered by large capacity flash drives, cleaner interface design and improvement it battery technology but I am still a long way from trading in my 20GB IPod for a phone.

That was quite a rant really but something I just wanted to put out there.


Post a Comment

<< Home