Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mobile Device Convergence

Watching the development and evolution of portable digital devices is the most interesting tech story at the moment. In theory, as I have said before, all media is now digital, so we could have one portable device for a media player, portable game console, media capture, and two way communicator of voice, text and anything else digital.

It is obvious that all the players are working towards this convergence from their own angle, and the phone people have pushed it the furthest. Nowadays it is difficult to buy a phone that does not also have a camera, many phones have simple games and phones are quickly developing their media player capabilities. So why am I skeptical? For example, I have just bought a cell-phone without a camera and an iPod. I expect to buy a new digital camera before the summer.

One problem is form factor. In reality there are different sizes to portable devices, and something with a usable keyboard or screen may be too big and clumsy to be taken everywhere. For example, I bought the iPod Shuffle to listen to podcasts mainly at the gym. The Shuffle is perfect size and weight for listening to audio while working out, but it is too small for most anything else.

There is also some utility to keeping functions separate. For example, I do not want to bring my phone with me when I work out, so I have a have a separate iPod for playing media. At other times, I have my phone with me and play media on my iPod. Another example is that I may have a PDA for work and prefer to have a separate cell phone so that I do not have to bring the PDA everywhere.

However the most important problem is ownership. I do not own my phone, "The Man" owns my phone. In this case the man is the phone company and they are not going to let go. A specific example of this is the experience we had with my son's camera phone with a removable media card. We copied pictures he had taken for a school project to the card and used a USB adaptor to load them on to the computer for editing and printing. There we discover that the pictures are in a proprietary format that a photo editing suite cannot handle. The only way to access the pictures is through the phone companies data service and lame web based picture editor.

I was not in the slightest bit surprised by this. Long ago I had concluded that there is no point in buying media for a phone as I am sure that the media will turn out to be incompatible with the next phone that I will have to get in a couple of years time. I do not like being owned, particularly by the phone company, which is why I will not buy a camera phone or a media player phone, and I will be very leery of using a phone based device for business purposes. End of convergence.

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