For All This Talk Of Convergence, Why So Many Diverged Devices?

from the trends,-indeed dept

There’s so much talk about convergence these days when it comes to the gadgets you carry around with you. Apparently, we’re supposed to expect our mobile phones to be music players, remote controls, pocket computers and navigation devices as well. However, for all that talk of convergence, why is it that we keep seeing new single-purpose devices hit the market? For about the 800th time in the last decade, Reuters is running a story about electronic paper, and how it’s really (no, seriously!) about to come out for real. However, what’s the killer app they see? The ability to read traditional newspapers on the train. Sorry, but that’s generally not how these types of technologies catch on. They have to offer some real benefit for the user, that simply wasn’t possible before. There are some benefits to reading the paper electronically, but unless there’s some element that’s vastly superior to what people do now (mixture of paper and web), a standalone device doesn’t make much sense.

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Comments on “For All This Talk Of Convergence, Why So Many Diverged Devices?”

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Meno says:

Porn or Ads

So you’re riding the subway while reading your virtual newpaper and what do you see? One column of news, continued on another page by the way, surrounded by two dozen animated ads trying to sell you everything under the sun! The worst part, your virtual paper is wireless enabled so you get new ads sent to you every time you pass a business…

I, for one says:

Convergence will never happen

How many types of power connector are there? Last time I did a count of low voltage power connectors I stopped a bit past 50. I bet I could find 200 types if I did some thorough research. What about batteries? Even just for phones I bet you could find a few hundred variations of the product. Are all these necessary? Do any offer advantages over others? Is it because there are no international standards for electronic components? The answer is no, no and no. Current ratings and physical design considerations cannot explain the existence of that much diversity. They are deliberately designed to be incompatible for economic reasons.

So what makes you think you will ever see true convergence of function in electronic devices? Only an insane company would produce such a thing in a capitalist economy, it would be like making an ever-lasting lightbulb, basically cutting your own throat and that of all your competitors at the same time.

To understand the evolution of consumer technology engineering and logic will not help you, it’s all about economics. What is possible and what is availabe for sale are universes apart.

I challenge any businessman who reads this – I dare you, try to manufacture a general purpose electromagnetic reader/writer with a general purpose computer and DSP core attached to it. A device like this is possible on a single VLSI die that can receive and send digital and FM radio, work as a phone, point to point walkie talkie, remote control, handheld computer, calculator, mp3 player and recorder, thermometer, compass, gps location unit…. need I continue?

Go on, I double dare you. You wont get to manufacture a single unit. It is nobodys commercial interest to generally solve problems with enabling technology for ordinary people. Why do that when you can sell them the same device 100 times, something that seems like 100 products for 100 times the profit?

Anonymous Coward says:

Customizable news on trains

The killer app is that with some of the readers, such as Sony’s, you can read just about any form of text/image file. This means you can download anything from pdf’s of bestsellers from p2p networks or, as I imagine would soon happen, get a few stories a day from sources of your choice via an automated program that runs while you sleep..fancy new scientist, scientific american, and gamespy reviews? What about a politics-heavy dose from your favorite bloggers?

This tech doesn’t do anything for newspapers, but autoleeching programs are going to let people surf slashdot and techdirt on the train, then skip over to a bootleg pdf of the latest harry potter. I know that -I- can’t wait, anyway.

John says:

Convergence is like evolution

Convergence happens for a reason, and usually it takes time for the converging elements to get the bugs worked out before the actual convergence happens. Phones and cameras converged before their time; result: crappy pictures didn’t look good even on your low res computer screen. The convergence of PDAs and phones has sucked up billions of development dollars and is still not there. You either end up with (by today’s standards) an awkwardly large phone with a tiny keyboard, or a phone that’s comfortable to hold to your ear with really slow text entry.

It’s very much like natural selection. The good ideas take hold, and the clumsy ones evolve further or die.

I disagree with the people who suggest it takes porn to drive innovation. That’s just BS. Porn is a trailing edge kind of phenomena that quietly takes advantage of existing communication channels.

Electronic paper has been slow to find the killer app because the marketing side of the electronic industry is so myopic. They can’t see any use for something that is simpler than what exists today.

What ever happened to the $100 computer that Negroponte was working on?


John Bailey says:

Re: Super convergence

One device that does all is a bad idea. It may be more convinent, but what happens when you want to upgrade a function? Also, the majority are not equally good at doing everything.

Somewhere I can see convergence coming in is interconnected devices. Its already possible to an extent with bluetooth. Still needs a bit of work by the manufacturers to make it easy to use and secure,, but when it works, it works really well.

As far as electronic paper, it will really take off if publishers support it. But the DRM required will likely be draconian as usual, so a backward step from the printed media. The positive aspects like home publishing and carrying around a stack of reference manuals could make it viable. If it supports plain text and PDF, then it would be on my wish list for certain.

Joe Carter says:

Re: Re: Super convergence

The iRex supports PDF and plain text.

The really interesting thing about these readers is the use of e-ink. It means it’s readable in sunlight and uses very little power. I’ve yet to see one but they are supposed to look very nice. Downsides are no colour and limited grey scales (16 IIRC). And cost perhaps.

Moneyguy says:

Before we lose it

Before I worry about losing a device, I’d like the converged “device” to actually work well.

Right now I have a new phone and the phone part works well. The camera stinks. The PDA functions (calender, address book, etc.) work OK, but I still won’t give up my Palm because the Palm works better. Other functions such as alarm clocks, calculators are handy but I’ll still stick with my Bose radio and my HP12c.

I wouldn’t mind a device that could “do it all” but I’ll take five quality things over one crappy uber-phone any day of the week. I’m sure by the time they figure out how to make such a device, my implant will tell me if it gets stolen. Then I just buy a new one and download the back up from my implant. Easy.

As for electronic paper and the ability to read it on the train …I’m sure it’s a niche market that has its followers. However, for the 99% of the country not riding the train I’ll wait for a more practical use for it. Can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but porn does come to mind …

anonymous coward says:

my treo 650 is about as converged a device as I can imagine currently and it serves me relatively well.

-cell phone


-address book


-basic web surfing (mostly google maps)

-mp3 player

-video player (from SD card)

-photo viewer

-basic game platform (online non-$ hold’em is my favorite)

I was solving a suduku while listening to music on the bus. A call came in, lowered the volume on my music, I click a button on my headset to answer the phone, took the call, added a meeting to my calendar, hung up, the music started, and I finished the puzzle.

and I have plenty of porn on it too.

isn’t that convergence?

Moneyguy says:

Re: Treo & Money

I have to admit the Treo is a great example of a converged device. At the time, I was wasn’t willing to shell out the money for something my (relatively new) Palm and paid for phone were doing.

One subject that hasn’t been brought up regarding convergence is the cost. When the Treo first came out it was expensive (about the same as a new Palm and a new phone plus or minus $50), but what really surprised me was the monthly fee. I thought that was way out there. (Sorry, can’t remember how much. Over $100/month comes to mind.) I realize that the “Early Adopters” pay the premium for being first and having the coolest device. However, those monthly fees keep adding up. Have the monthly fees come down as well?

We’ve been cutting back on the technology we don’t use or use rarely – especially the stuff that has a monthly fee associated with it. We have a good start on a college fund and we haven’t missed the stuff.

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