Convergence or Divergence?

Techno-types always get excited about convergence. They love the idea that a gadget can do two different things. That, in time, stand-alone cameras will become unnecessary because every mobile phone now incorporates a camera. Or that no-one will need DVD players because in every living room there will be a PC with a built-in DVD drive. Techno-types like convergence because it's technically clever.

But they completely miss the point about human nature. Remember when Joey in Friends got excited about "It's two gifts in one. It's a pen... and it's also a clock"? We all laughed because we knew that it wasn't a very good pen... and it wasn't a very good clock either. And that's the problem with convergence. It brings compromises, whilst buyers seek improvements. So whilst my phone takes pictures - quite good 5 megapixel pictures - they'll never be as good as the ones from a proper camera with a decent lens.

A result of convergence
And of course the sellers, the consumer electronics companies, don't want convergence either. Why would they want to move from selling two or three separate devices to selling just one? Far better to sell you a phone and a camera and a satnav even though they could sell you a single device which does the lot.

So in the real world neither buyers nor sellers are much interested in convergence. The market will produce countless new gadgets which will do a particular task better than before. It will produce new gadgets that you can't live without.

The past 18 months or so have seen some dramatic changes in the market for consumer technology with countless new device types appearing and quickly becoming irresistable. Tablets never caught on until Apple launched the iPad in June 2010. Now there are countless different makes, sizes and even specialist operating systems to choose from. Tablets are perfect for internet surfing without getting out a conventional PC or laptop. And they have a virtual keyboard which is great for typing in URLs, passwords and so on. But you wouldn't want to type a dissertation on an iPad even though it's technically possible. That's not what they excel at.

The Amazon Kindle is a killer e-book reader. It is designed for this one purpose and it does it excellently. Every detail of its design is made with e-book reading in mind, from the non-fatiguing e-ink display to the positioning of the page-turn buttons. Yes, you can read e-books on a PC or a tablet but they are not optimised for this task so they are a compromise.

So we're not interested in convergence. We're interested in divergence and the creation of new device types which do their particular tasks ever better than before.