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Face it, convergence is inevitable. Do I know what Apple has up their sleeves? Absolutely not. I do have suspicions and sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m surprised. I do think that the iPod, or possibly an entirely new product line based off my theory, is coming to MWSF 07.
Apple will make an uberdevice. They will succeed where others have failed in this category, and once again cause a paradigm shift in the consumer electronics market. Yes those are big bold statements, and I say these things because of Leopard technologies combined with the growing Mac market, and the utter state of things in this business.
Combining various things into an eSwiss Army Knife is usually a failure for three reasons.
1. The hardware isn’t well designed to handle all the capabilities efficiently and simply. The buttons do unexpected things (because we don’t read manuals), or the buttons are used in unexpected combinations to perform more actions (think keyboard shortcuts – Command-Z for undo?), or some function of the software is sub par because of the other functions.
The device in this single case will eventually fall out of market because humans have a tough time operating the hardware, much less interacting with the software. The other side is that the sub par-ness becomes a serious usage problem and the customer looks for a device that does handle the feature better.
2) The hardware design is fantastic, well thought out, and easy to use in the palm of ones hand and interacts with the computer flawlessly (at the hardware level). The software causes problems because of coding problems, poor UI design, and/or both.
I pretty much lump every non-iPod device into this category. In my opinion, and I think I share this with many others, is that iTunes/iPod is on top because Apple mitigated problems one and two out the gates.
3) The converged device contains a feature set that isn’t attractive enough for the masses. Most consumers are comfortable with single-use devices because when the device only does one thing it does it very well. The iPod, while on the technical scheme is veneered into many functions continues to do one thing. It eats multimedia files for breakfast and plays them until dinner.
So what’s missing from the equation and what does Apple have to do with it?
Apple is good at one thing too, making well-designed combinations of technology work. For example, OS X contains more combinations of closed and open source technology than bad jokes on a Letterman episode. These technologies are bundled in their own little buckets, and when piped together (and not necessarily in the unix understanding) are very powerful.
What will the uber-converged-device do? Why, everything of course. It is the uber device, after all! Typing on it will not be necessary, though optional with standard Bluetooth keyboards or use the fingerprint resistant touch screen (maybe a locker gnome will clean it while it rests in ones pocket). It can be a phone, a limited computer with email and web capability, and a Walkman all in one hand sized package. It can get fed just like an iPod can with all ones important information. Aside from protected content, the synchronizing is a 2-way trip – meaning that data entered on the go can sync with the computer when plugged in and vice-versa. Even if one downloads something from the iTunes store on the go, it will put the content in the computer. Eventually, the user could start a download on the way home, connect to the computer, and have the computer take over from there.
There is a push out in the software world gravitating desktop applications into the browser (and of course onto hosted services). A device such as this, while possibly early for 2007 is prime for work and play on the run with applications running from an Internet connection. Apple is clearly a leader in converging computer and consumer electronics. A device like this is eminent, even if it doesn’t come from Apple. But it will, and I’ll have my Visa in hand.