An interesting piece in EE Times -- the house magazine for circuit designers -- paints a grim picture for silicon companies. Its thesis is simple: as cellphones become better at doing games, photographs, audio and PDA stuff, the market for all those other gadgets shrinks. Eventually, we'll be buying one device where before we bought five, and people who make chips will have to learn to grow apples for a living.
It's hard to argue against this logic. Convergence necessarily means one box where there were two before, and that means half as many chips. Otherwise, why bother? And so the industry will collapse in on itself, leaving a couple of mangy dogs fighting over the corpse of a once-vibrant market.
Nah. Innovation will keep the market going for a lot longer than the doomsayers think. Camera companies are very good at making cameras: mobile phone companies aren't. An iPod does one thing very, very well: smartphones don't. PDAs may be absorbed into phones, but I doubt anyone would miss them. Single-use devices will have the edge for a while -- they'll always be able to make better use of technology than the all-in-one jobs.
In the end, phones that are just phones work so much better at that job, too. By far my favourite phone of the last few years has been my Sendo 550 -- a tiny little clamshell that just works. You can get one for around fifty quid, new. You charge it up. You make calls. You put it in a pocket and forget it's there. That's it. I've had it for a while now and it's getting a bit battered, and I'm testing its big brother, the Sendo X Symbian smartphone (more on that soon), but small, cheap and pretty is still winning the fight against big and expensive.