Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Divergence vs. Convergence

In the San Jose Mercury News on December 29, 2006 http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/business/technology/personal_technology/16343174.htm, Dean Takahashi discusses how personalization, not convergence, is a key driver in many consumer electronics products. Convergence of consumer electronics products (ie., TV+Internet, Phone+Internet+Camera+MP3 Player, etc) has been given in the "better, faster, cheaper" world of the next hot device but Takahashi quotes MIT professor Henry Jenkins (www.henryjenkins.org) in saying that the consumer's desire to adapt devices and services to their own tastes and preferences are the real drivers of 21st Century consumer electronics. According to Jenkins, consumers want to be able to express their creativity with these products and are seeking products and services with multiple, open interfaces which allow customization. As examples, he sites MySpace, TI's DSP's which supports multiple codecs, Microsoft's X-Box 360 which allows users to save custom music playlists and incorporate their own music soundtracks in the games, and of course, YouTube.

Fundamentally, I agree with Jenkin's premise that convergence for the sake of convergence is counterproductive and consumers will see through the limited value propositions that these devices offer. The most recent example of this was the Samsung digital camera with integrated MP3 player. Stitching multiple, and often unrelated devices, together does not increase the utility of any of the devices and often results in a combined device with is inferior to the best-in-breed individual devices.

Another trend is if it doesn't add to the BOM (bill of materials), include it as a feature. As an example, web browsers, certainly a useful feature, are appearing in lots of devices in which web browsing is not a desirable usage model. For example, why does the Sony Playstation 3 http://www.us.playstation.com/PSP?ref=http%3A//www.sony.com/index.php have a web browser built in? There is no keyboard on this gaming device, which makes web browsing an exercise in frustration. Or, the Sony Mylo http://www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/en/-/USD/SY_BrowseCatalog-Start?CategoryName=cpu_PersonalCommunicators&CP=sony_hm_nav_elec_myloshop&ref=http%3A//www.sony.com/index.php which also has a web browser built in. The Mylo does have a keyboard but the display is so small, that viewing the full web page requires constant scrolling left and right, not just up and down. These are devices which are fine devices for their intended uses of game playing and instant messaging but because adding the web browser feature didn't add much in additional cost, it was included.

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