The myth of technology convergence

The convergence fantasy is you luxuriating in a bubble bath of digital goodness. The reality: your heart surgeon pulling out a Swiss Army knife. Feeling better?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor
myth technology convergence

With the failure of the crowdsourcing for the Ubuntu phone, a noble attempt, it's worth looking at Mr. Shuttleworth's vision of a single device converged world. It is a myth, pure and simple.

There are many examples of converged technologies that show the advantages and limitations of convergence.

Swiss Army knife
I've carried one for years. Sometimes I want to cut a thread. Other times open a package. File a nail. Pull out a splinter. Swiss Army knife to the rescue!

And yet I own other scissors. Other knives. Other files and tweezers.

Why? For the same reason that few people - who can afford it - will own just one computing device: More demanding and specialized tasks need better tools.

Take camera phones. You have a phone with a camera. Is this convergence?

At one level, of course, it is. But when we look at the rest of the camera ecosystem - funded by the popularity of camera phones - we see that cheap cameras are being subsumed by camera phones. But we also see incredible divergence.

Digital SLR's that give you near film quality video. 4K video cameras. Super high speed video. Digital SLR guts and put into a film camera form factor with high-quality lenses. And add-ons for camera phones and action cam's that make them competitive with low-end video cameras.

In evolutionary biology there is a concept called punctuated equilibrium. Things are steady for a long time and then: volcanos; asteroids; global warming.

There is a huge die off and then an incredible rush of diversity as new species evolve to fill every ecological niche. And then a lesser die off as those new species are winnowed down to the few winners.

Disk drive vendors - over 200 through the years - are down to three. But storage systems - aided by drive standardization - are showing more variety than ever - with much more coming in the next few years.

SSDs flowered with dozens of vendors. Yet the field is rapidly consolidating with some of the early winners now losers.

The Storage Bits take
Poor people benefit by smartphones because anything is way better than nothing. But as you move up economically your time becomes more valuable and it pays to have better tools.

The real problem Mr. Shuttleworth's device solves is synchronizing data across devices - by eliminating other devices. While no one has nailed syncing, it will be solved, and suddenly we'll have one less reason to converge.

Complementarity - not convergence - is the future. A notebook for editing and producing. A smartphone for on-the-go idea capture and communication. A tablet for viewing and reviewing while relaxing.

I carry my Swiss Army knife everywhere because it's handy. But it complements, not replaces, more capable individual tools.

So it will be with digital convergence.

Comments welcome, of course. Do you ever see yourself converging on a single device? Why, or why not?

See also:


Editorial standards