Tuesday, June 09, 2009

iPhone is the name, Convergence is the game

The Singularity is still some ways from where we are now, but that other Big Thing, Convergence is likely here already, and answers to the name of iPhone. The latest iteration of that shiny object of technolust, the iPhone 3G S (yes, there is indeed a space that separates the 'G' from the 'S' - trust Apple to pay close attention to fine details)has made a number of other digital devices superfluous, including:

  • entry-level autofocus digital camera (3 megapixel)
  • entry-level camcorder (similar to Flip)
  • hand-held game player (similar to Nintendo Gameboy)
  • GPS device
  • pesonal media (music, video, photo) player
  • messaging device
  • internet browser
  • organizer (contacts, calendar, todo, etc.)
  • car automatic lock opener (Zipcars)
  • tens of thousands of other applications
Oh, it's also a phone, just in case you wondering. Just a week ago I had written about the emergence of smartbooks, in addition to netbooks. Well, the competition has gotten that much harder now. Anybody with an iPhone or an iPod Touch is pretty much set for most things they do with small, shiny, digital bling -- why would they need to lug around any more stuff when one thing can do all. To be sure, there have been several purveyors of devices over the past few years that have claimed to achieve convergence. None, however, have come anywhere close to delivering the elegance, refinement and fine balance -- that je ne sais quois -- that the iPhone 3G S embodies. Among other things, cellphones can now serve as a vehicle for discount coupons, and can be used to accept credit card payments through an internet connection. Somebody will soon find a way to attach a credit card scanner and then you'll be able to set up a retail business accepting credit cards (without resorting to the old mechanical methods) wherever you can pick up an internet signal.
For the moment, we will continue to have discrete, single-purpose digital devices; but within the next five years, I predict that the convergence device will provide sufficient baseline quality for every built-in function as to relegate most of the single-purpose devices to the high-end fringe. And so when you lose one, you'll lose them all -- but of course, the cloud will come to your rescue since it would have at least backed up all your personal information and settings.

The term convergence device does insufficient justice to the capabilities of these devices that are far more powerful than full-fledged computers from even just a few years ago.  Consider the ways in which one can inject information into these devices: text (keyboard, gesture recognition), sound, optical, motion, touch, geo-location.  The devices deliver information through visual, auditory and motion (vibration) cues.  They are getting ever closer to being able to interact in ways that humans find most natural and instinctive.  The massive numbers of applications available for the iPhone at Apple's iPhone App Store suggest that the iPhone is not just the Apple ][ of our age, it is the Swiss Army Knife.
Convergence devices are also engineering a significant transformation in social norms and behaviors. According to this article from the NYT,
For a growing swath of the population, the social expectation is that one is nearly always connected and reachable almost instantly via e-mail. The smartphone, analysts say, is the instrument of that connectedness — and thus worth the cost, both as a communications tool and as a status symbol.
“The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,” said David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”
The spread of those social assumptions may signal a technological crossover that echoes the proliferation of e-mail itself more than a decade ago. At some point in the early 1990s, it became socially unacceptable — at least for many people — to not have an e-mail address.
The convergence device has become as essential as the watch became, some decades ago, and the mobile phone became in recent times. And in a recession economy, it's almost as if one is expected to carry one:
But recent smartphone converts are often people who count pennies, including many from the growing ranks of job seekers. Helene Rude of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., was laid off from her job as a business development manager at I.B.M. this year, when her unit, among others, was the target of cuts. When she left, Ms. Rude had to turn in her company notebook computer with its constant wireless connection.
So she got an iPhone instead, allowing her to be online no matter where she was, without having to lug a computer around. “I absolutely got it for the job search,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s really an expectation, but if another job candidate returns an e-mail message eight hours later, and you get back immediately with a message that says ‘Sent from my iPhone,’ I think it has to be a check box in your favor.”
The premier, iconic convergence devices available today are the RIM Blackberry and the Apple iPhone, and the newly introduced Palm Pre designed by former Apple engineers appears to be on track to also occupy a high pedestal in the Convergence's Mount Olympus. The convergence device -- call it smartphone, smartbook, or whatever, will likely also edge out a bunch of other, non-digital artifacts:
Mr. Sexton, 45, decided to leave his job as a manager of a community health organization to travel and then look for other work, shortly before the financial crisis hit last fall.
He soon found himself looking for work in a tough market, and got a smartphone as a digital assistant in his search. Now he is hooked. “It allows me to be on top of things, and always connected, no matter where I am,” he said.
Mr. Sexton searches the Web, takes notes and sends e-mail with his iPhone. When he has trouble sleeping, he reaches for his smartphone to read news or check e-mail.
Most importantly,
In fact, Mr. Sexton said, he finds himself reading more online these days and buying fewer magazines.
So one fallout from convergence is that paper will recede from our lives as a medium for delivering information. No doubt other uses for paper will be found -- we may expect the Paper Mafia to aggressively pursue avenues for survival and even growth perhaps. Maybe, in the future, houses and cars will be made of paper; certainly objects that don't demand the strength of steel could be constructed from paper. It would certainly bring a smile to my face to come across a house of cards, for instance.
Change, not only is good -- observing and speculating about it is a great way to pass the time.

No comments: