Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Converge to a Crash

Since the days of calculator watches, convergence of personal electronics was the goal of every gadget-loving geek. Our coffee makers should make eggs and toast. Our watches should be able to convert metric to imperial and give pi to fifteen digits. Our game consoles should be the media hub of our living room. PDA's should be integrated into every electronics device imaginable, but inter-operate with none.

I had a dream called the Samsung i500. Part PalmOS PDA, part phone, sync'd to Linux, allowed third-party applications & Palm gaming. It should have consolidated my iPAQ, cell phone and mobile gaming console into one lil' compact unit.


The phone was serviceable at first, but it was neither a good PDA or a good phone. Third party apps worked, but space was limited. Sync'ing contacts was a pain because the Linux USB Visor drivers locked up my machine. Things like voice dialing just didn't work. And for some inexplicable reason you could use the phone to receive text messages, just not send text messages. Right.

The i500 had finally taken all the abuse it could and started corrupting my contacts and calendar databases. They eventually got so bad they caused memory exceptions and locked up the phone. Ugly.

During this time I aquired my NDS and an iPod. Calendaring & contacts were actually being served up much better by the iPod than any PDA I had used in the past (thanks to its native vCard and .ics file format support). The NDS was my stop for mobile gaming. And my i500 became nothing more than a half-assed brick.

But this doesn't just deal with the idiocy of smartphones. Look who else is doing this - namely console manufacturers. Sony wanted the PS3 to be your high-def media center, file server, gaming center, music server, bread toaster all-in-one. In the end, however, sales were awful. CNN deemed "the PS3 may be the chrome-trimmed headstone on the grave of convergence." Not to say that you can't have successfuly convergent devices... you definitely can. But you have to do all parts well, not just some. My i500 was a weak PDA and a poor cell phone, but I mistakenly thought that those two weak facets added together would equal a stronger convergent device. Instead I got a broken PDA and a crappy phone.

Same thing with gaming. Cell phone games are popular, but I'd wager dollars to doughnuts the industry has hit its peak. I know that Intel, IBM and Nvidia are ramping up their own system-on-a-chip products for mobile devices, hoping to bring vertex shading to 2" screens. But if you're a gamer, purchasing 4-5 titles a year, what system are you going to rely on? A J2ME-based cell phone that's so tiny the ligaments in your thumb pop, or a pocket-sized DS Lite? Would you rather have a phone that third-party publishers and developers still can't deploy product onto, or would you rather have a handheld console where you can just buy a $30 title off the shelf?

So forget convergence, I'm back to just buying what I need. Now I just need Dockers to bring back their Mobile Pant.

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