If you follow trends in consumer electronics, you might recognize "convergence" as a buzzword that is a few years past its prime. Very few things are sadder than a stale buzzword, but this one (which originally meant something like being able to watch TV over the Internet) might need just a quick redefinition, and then it will be rejuvenated and re-buzzed!
Here's what the new "convergence" means: the collision of at least a half-dozen currently separate technologies, which are coming together faster than perhaps anyone is quite comfortable with. We're talking about cell phones; MP3/MP4 players (e.g., iPods); PSPs (handheld gaming devices, which used to be synonymous with Game Boys); PDAs (which used to be Palm Pilots but today are more like BlackBerries); handheld computers (the Windows-based Treo seems to be the flavor of the month, at least for a smartphone computer); portable GPS navigation systems; portable satellite radios; two-way keychain car-alarm remotes; etc.
This digital collision is complicated by the fact that many of these devices were never related before and are made by companies that were previously in unrelated industries. Apparently, the new rule is: Everything is fair game now. If a manufac-turer thinks adding GPS navigation or tracking to its cell phone is going to boost sales, go for it! In fact, the more features, the better, and let's see what resonates with consumers. You might call it "kitchen-sink marketing."
However, there are practical limits to the kitchen-sink approach, especially for portable devices; and no single product can boast every single feature. So, if your phone has Bluetooth but not Wi-Fi, there will probably be an angry blog about it in the morning.
The stakes are high, and the rivalry is hardly friendly. Cell phone makers see the tens of millions of iPods Apple has sold as an opportunity, since many new phones can play MP3s and have the ability to download audio and video on the fly. (But from where? iTunes? Apple's vertical integration for delivering its proprietary technologies could be a case study in locking-in customers and locking-out competitors.)
Digital content for these devices is also an issue: where it comes from (wireless over the air or downloaded from a computer) and how much it costs (starting at $15 a month, plus a $30 download kit with headphones, CD with Windows Media Player 10 and USB cable, plus external Mini-SD card to store your MP3s and MP4s, plus download fees). And what exactly are you planning to watch on your new EVDO phone? (EVDO is the new high-speed wireless standard, also called VCast by Verizon and PowerVision by Sprint.) Stay tuned here, folks. The answers (and the buzzwords) are evolving rapidly.