All eyes are on the CES and Macworld events this week -- but the gushings emitted from either show will amount to zero impact on the anticipated converged industries of home/entertainment, mobile services, and PCs/Internet unless things change dramatically among the companies that dominate the subsets of this necessarily inter-dependent all-in-one vision.
The news from the shows still primarily address the disparate parts -- and not on how to accomplish the required convergence. The marketplace (not to mention the FCC and U.S. Congress) so far has been a poor facilitator to bringing the necessary constituent ingredients together for creating satisfying and economically attractive offerings.
For any price, myself as a consumer or business can not get "it." And what I want from "it" is feasible, possible, tantalizingly close -- yet fundamentally unrealized. The lack of "it" is holding us all back.
"It" means I want the best notebook PC available (Mac OS X is my current choice), connected via a wireless broadband connection (preferably right in the chip set) in any major metro area, seamlessly. I want the best handheld device too (who knows which at any given time?) to deliver voice, PIM, some data-based services, music/video, and it must interface fully and seamlessly with my PC and host-based services. They should share network and roaming.
This involves integration to the devices, but more importantly coordination of the back-end network services for me to control in one UI from anywhere. My services for communications and data should be the same in access, ease, and cost (but not necessarily in origins or even location), integrated for me by the network provider. And I want one flat-rate, unlimited-use bill per month (and keep it under $100 per user; less for volume business contracts). I'll pay a lot for the best PC and hip handheld device -- but "it" all must play together when I turn them on.
"It" should also allow these devices to act as the gateway to ALL my content, all the content of the Web, and all of the business services that my employer deems necessary and worthwhile to provide securely via VPN for me. These devices and their associated services should also provide the management console and copious storage (with integrated backup) for ALL of my personal, home, work, entertainment, and communications content and services, fully and always ... whether I'm in the home, on the road, or at work. Please store the needed content locally (as feasible), as well as redundantly in my home, and up in the cloud for safekeeping.
If I pay for this then it should serve my home/family needs, too. Use the same broadband connection via the PC/cloud/device triumverate as the gateway to all my music, video, programming and pay-per-view content. Let me create my own content and manage it across these nodes. The PC becomes the primary device, but the connection is key too. Let's bring them together.
In other words, just connect my stuff, please. And let me be mobile always at broadband speed. Let my handheld and PC have a cozy relationship. So what we really need is full-life digital-mobile uniplay. If you know where I can buy it, please tell me.
But folks, we're just not seeing the level of integration of technology, intent, and customer services -- all of which boils down to control and management of the software -- required to make the "it" vision work. I do not see this improving any time soon. They call it triple play (web, voice, TV) -- but more accurately it's currently quintuple un-play (usually required among several uncoordinated suppliers and networks to get even close to "it"). "It" should also always include mobile broadband. I still must be my own systems integrator for basic services, and no one else can do it for me -- yet.
Will 2007 will be year of true convergence between software companies, device makers, and network providers to get me "it"? Will we see any evidence of "it" at CES or Macworld? No, because to get "it" requires the constituent provider companies to relate as partners much differently. So far they all seem to want to keep as much of "it" as they can, to no one's full solution offering. Certain parties no doubt fear they could be relegated to the margins and only posses Razr-thin profits). [It's as if there are a dozen sumo wrestlers in a large circle, with no one able to push the others around much, and none able to buddy-up enough to change the dynamic.]
What's missing, of course, is the role of a power-broker shogun over the software and integration of convenience and experience that binds all of "it" together. It's like we're at the early stages of the PC, say, 1981, where the only way this "personal" thing was going to work was if all the facets -- disk drive, input devises, third-party drivers, peripherals, UI, applications and kernel, etc. -- could be made to play together. There was a heavy-handed unifying influence required, ala Apple and ultimately Microsoft.
There are past examples in older industries of this seemingly required kingpin role; think of Rockefeller (energy), Ford (manufacturing), JP Morgan (financial services), Gompers (labor). We are at the stage now with "it" -- we need the power of a kingpin to pull it off (and then maybe the government will break it up in 10 years). So far, no one entity has mustered the power to pull "it" off.
Apple is in a good place to act toward "it" -- for home, small business, entertainment, and mobile -- yet Apple needs the right converged network partners. Microsoft will be in a speedy catch-up mode to Apple should that happen. Do we see Microsoft even close to leading in pursuit of "it" given its missteps of the past five years, not to mention anti-trust considerations. Will a network partner with Microsoft, or fear losing it's business as the software dominates? Does Google have the goods? AT&T? Verizon?
Not yet. But some of these players together could conjure "it" up: Siamese twins instead of sumo wrestlers. They may need to innovate on more than technology -- they may need to re-invent the notion of integrated partnership, of ecology-minded go-to-market operations. They may need to give up something to get something even bigger -- while keeping the trains running on time and their quarterly SEC filings still looking good.
Does Apple need to merge with Sprint to make this happen? Does Microsoft need to buy Verizon? Could Cisco provide this as a third party in a way that Apple and Microsoft could live with?
No, don't look to CES and Macworld for "it". The honchos and leaders of sub-industries need to find the proper interests formula to bring "it" about, to create in essence the next colossal global business. It's hard, granted, but the payoffs for users as well as the successful partnerships will be awesome and long-standing. "It" could become the largest industry in the history of the world.[poll id=11]