Three more views -- previously here, here, and here. Again the question is: are we going to keep carrying around a grab-bag of devices, each optimized for its own purpose? Or will convenience, technical improvement, etc mean more and more functions in fewer and fewer gizmos.
From a tech-industry reader:
"I think you're wrong; the vast majority of the device market in these kinds of segments will eventually go to all-in-one, "good enough" devices. Sure, people will still buy digital cameras, portable reading devices, etc., but the specialty devices will be for the 10% of uses or 10% of consumers who want special higher quality or particular features--for most people, the simple functionality in a lowest-common-denominator single device will be sufficient.
"An anecdote: circa 1998, I was working on cryptography for mobile devices (my career also includes Apple, and I'm currently an engineer at [famous internet company]. I had a meeting with a number of very senior engineers at Motorola, and this convergence question came up. One engineer pooh-poohed the idea of convergence, and when I asked him explicitly, he asserted that yes, people would carry a cell phone, a pager, and a PDA to solve those specific problems (I envisioned Batman's utility belt).
"You can't even buy a PDA anymore, as far as I know--it's a feature integrated into phones. Pagers are rare and for particular on-call specialties. I now know a number of people who carry a Blackberry for email and a cell phone for calls, but I'm certain that bifurcation is also doomed. I regularly now check my email from my phone, rather than bother to open my laptop, even if it's in the same room."
Another reader in New York writes:
"I agree with you (mostly, as I think that some convergence is inevitable) that no device can be everything to everybody. But here is another counterexample I'm not sure you mentioned - phones and GPS devices: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/technology/companies/29gps.html
"I'm not a big GPS user (I don't even have a car here in NYC), and I am a big Google maps fan, but here I do have to wonder. If the Google Maps for Mobile is going to depend on a good data connection, then I don't really see how it can match a dedicated GPS device which only needs "sightlines" to satellites (assuming of course that there is no brownout... hey, convergence of two of your tech threads!). When we were camping in Acadia National Park this summer, my wife's Google phone had no phone signal, never mind 3G....
"I think Maps for Mobiles is great in densely populated areas, but if I were planning a long trip with lots of detours in rural areas, I don't see how this could be a dedicated GPS with the maps data downloaded previously to the device."
After the jump, one more very long but detailed and interesting pro-convergent case.
"The arguments presented against convergence seem to be focused on ways in which the convergent devices don't live up to standalone ones,overlooking places where they actually improve upon them. The Kindleis a convergent device - it includes a keyboard and cellular connection. That's what allow you to buy books on the road, search,bookmark, and so on. It's not as convergent as an iPhone, but it's a lot more convergent than earlier ebook readers, and the benefits of being able to buy any book or magazine while sitting in an airport terminal are a significant improvement over every alternative.
"Sure the iPhone and other smartphones don't take as good pictures as a standalone camera, but we're now seeing photo editing apps showing up for the mobile platforms - pretty good ones, in fact: http://www.philcoffman.com/blog/photography/iphone-photography/ Now we have a platform that allows you to take a picture, edit it, color correct it, crop, and so on while you still stand before your subject, able to retake the shot if you want, and upload it to your photo album without ever having to visit *or even own* a computer. There are apps that will stitch together your panorama shot while you stand there ready to retake a shot if needed: http://www.technosanity.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/img_0441_2.jpg
"Now we're comparing $199 iPod touch for a casual photographer - say a 15 year old - to a dedicated camera, computer, and image software - $500 or more just to get started. The convergent device can't do as much in a discrete sense as the individual devices, but it can also do more in an integrated sense. For example, I can't imagine a real-estate agent using anything other than a convergent device in the future because it allows them to take photos, adjust them, stitch them together, upload them, and verify that everything is in order before they ever leave the property. Even though the photo quality is worse (but good enough), the overall outcome is generally better....
"What works most in favor of the convergence devices is the cost to incorporate new elements. Cameras have become so cheap that Apple included a video camera in the $149 iPod, just to justify the price point against the $199 iPod Touch. It's much, much cheaper to add new elements to a convergent device to try and overcome its limitations than it is to build new services on top of dedicated devices. Adding a better camera to a iPhone is trivial, because all the interfaces are already in place, but adding cellular services and the interface to upload photos to a camera is very difficult because those interfaces were never considered. It's just a matter of time before high resolution color screens hit a price floor and the screen technical difference between an iPhone and a Kindle vanish. The devices with the most software and interface flexibility are going to win out, simply because they can adjust to the marketplace much, much faster. That was the whole point of the iPhone - to build a platform with that flexibility. All of the other technical bits would naturally show up in time. That's why general purpose computers won out over stand alone adding machines, typewriters and stand-alone word processors, and so on. Remember, computers were the convergent devices of their time, and they won flat-out - except in the mobile space.
"Examine some of the unexpected iPhone apps. Multiple insurance carriers have created apps that allow you to submit claims right from the phone - including those crappy photos that you probably didn't expect to need to bring your camera for. TomTom has and Google is developing turn-by-turn software for the iPhone. Why buy both a phone and a GPS? Fitness apps that map where you ride or run, how fast you go, how far you go, how many calories you burn, and so on. Barcode readers that use the iPhone camera so you can a book and get the Amazon listing for it. What's more, Amazon offers a service where you can take a picture of an item that you see - maybe a toaster at your friends house - and someone at Amazon will try and match it to a product that they sell. There are apps that allow your friends to share their location data so you can find out if one of them is physically nearby - discovered one of my best friends was given tickets to a baseball game I was at. Since you've written about on-demand air travel, Zipcar has an app that will locate the closest car to your location, reserve it, and when you go to pick it up, will let you honk the horn and unlock the car from the iPhone.
"And you can do all of these things from one device that you probably always have with you. What's more, if you happen to find yourself at your friends house staring at that toaster, you can buy and install that app and add the functionality while you are standing there. You didn't even need to plan ahead, which is always the excuse for discrete devices:
"There is no advantage to picking up the phone over picking up one of the cameras." Well, yes there is an advantage - you don't need to know ahead of time which thing you want. Sometimes you know, sometimes you don't. How many times have you found yourself in situations, unexpectedly, where you wish you had thought to bring your Kindle? or your camera? or any other device or bit of information?"
One or two more in the queue, then I will declare this closed for my purposes -- and wait to see what happens with the devices!
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