December 09, 2005

Technology: life after convergence - what happens next?

Life after Convergence ? innovation, variety and divergence

Everyone is talking about convergence, yet few corporations fully understand the real threats and opportunities. Telecom companies become software and media houses. Food retailers become online banks. Computers become phones and video stores, while phones become TVs, and cameras become e-mail devices. However, while we will see many strange partnerships, with convergence in products and services on price, features and quality, we will also see huge new investment in diversity. The nanopod is just one example of divergent, highly specialised, low cost devices, designed to do just one simple thing really well. In comparison, convergence can be boring, destroys variety, breeds monopoly, kills invention, adds unwanted options, makes life more complicated - and robs consumers of choice.

Convergence is about co-packaging, but all real innovation is about diversity: doing things different to serve clients better. Many companies are trying hard to sell single multi-tasking, convergent (expensive) devices to solve all problems. Take the so-called digital home: convergence might mean total control with wireless TV / video / music / web in every room, all from one online PC, also used for children?s games and homework - or a fridge that is also a web browser. But who really wants web access on a fridge door, or a single remote control for every device in the house, or a single device to play the same music in every room?

Divergence means I have a nanopod for personal music, plus a tiny mobile phone (useless for serious camera use), a pocket PDA with colour screen and video, an ultra-small portable PC with 5.5 hours battery life suitable for long flights, and a giant-screened laptop for high-powered applications, suitable for car journeys where screen size prevents nausea and eye strain. I also have a data projector for a 3 metre wide home cinema with a dedicated DVD / digital TV system, and so on.

We need to keep focussed on the needs of ordinary people who want many simple, well-designed, reliable, low cost products ? to do different things. We need to encourage diversity, innovation and creative genius, to improve quality of life, solve real problems and make great things happen. Convergence is important but divergence will drive the future, and survival of every technology company will depend on it.