Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is divergence the new convergence ?

“I use 7 screens to manage my work and life” proclaimed a Silicon Valley high ranking geek working for a big technology company. It amazed everyone on the table who had challenges with two phones, one personal and other company issued, and a laptop. 7 devices, portable and fixed comprised the stable of computing assets used across various operating systems, capabilities, synchronization with multiple systems, providing segmented information to cater to specific needs of this executive. Asked a CIO in the audience, “How do you remember which device to pick up for what purpose ?” Quipped the multi-device juggler, “Oh it’s easy …” and rattled off the work distribution.

When Smartphones made their mark with the ability to push email and SMS, it ensured that the corporate worker had no option to 24X7 work. The small screen however posed limitations on what one could achieve on the phone. As screens became larger the phone got bigger and bulkier redefining the shape and size of what was once a small pocket appendage. The good thing is that the phone never aspired to replace the clunky laptop.

The advent of the tablet a few years back had researchers proclaiming the imminent demise of the laptop; déjà vu when the laptop made its appearance. Executives love the soft keyboard on the tablet, plus the ability to scrawl and convert to text but slowly realized speed limits imposed by this input method. Keyboards found their way back connecting to tablets and then everyone wanted spreadsheets and word processors compatible with their other devices. Reading on the smartphone has evolved to allow all types of documents barring few exceptions; the tablet had to compete with the phone and the laptop.

Manufacturers are experimenting with different screen sizes, 5”, 7”, 9”, 10” with justifications on why their version makes sense to the users, while the phones now have crept to 4”. Each has found traction with a set of users, segmenting the market by activity or deemed convenience. While initially WIFI was acceptable communication channel, now 3G/4G is a necessity.

One more connected device, one more data plan to manage, the growing monthly expense is not a discussion, the ability to traverse across the screens is insatiable, which are evolving faster than (Charles) Darwin or (Gordon) Moore thought possible. The want rate is keeping pace with this and suddenly the hapless executive has multiple screens not wanting to discard the earlier one as quickly as s/he is acquiring newer ones.

Will the phone and the tablet converge in the future ? Many believe convergence is the way forward between the capabilities offered by the phone and the tablet with the new device offering the best of both worlds. Does it mean we will be able to make phone and video calls, surf the net, work on documents and applications, talk to the device, type on it as fast as we do on the humble laptop, and use it for entertainment; all this with clear demarcation and ability to segment usage as well as official and personal data.

Me thinks that it will take longer than we believe it will; maybe there are individuals who will happily put a 7” or bigger device to their ear or use it with a Bluetooth speaker, the majority will manage the convergence or divergence with multiple and live with its associated challenges.

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