The World in your Palm

Cell phones are cameras, too. Music players are photo albums, too. PDAs browse the Internet, too… A panel of industry players moderated by Harvard Business School professor Alan MacCormack took on the question of future “form factors” at the 2005 Cyberposium conference…

“Cell phones are cameras, too. Music players are photo albums, too. PDAs browse the Internet, too…” ; So begins an article on HBS Working Knowledge.

As makers of everything engage in an all-out features war to cram the most services, accessories, and functions into a single product, the real question for many is this: Does the consumer really want an all-in-one digital device?

A panel of industry players moderated by Harvard Business School professor Alan MacCormack took on the question of future “form factors” at the 2005 Cyberposium conference…

At the moment, the cell phone is the closest thing we have to a fully converged device, said panelists, who represented device makers, telecom service providers, and operating system developers. Many cell phones feature a camera, instant messaging, Internet browsing, address and date book, and wireless e-mail. Oh, and you can also make phone calls on them.

That said, a single device is neither technically possible today nor desirable, several panelists ventured. The barriers include human physiology (typing is still difficult on a small keyboard), technology (battery life for a fully converged device might be in minutes, not hours), and human preference (would the iPod be as popular if it looked like a cell phone?).

The watch industry might be a good analogy as to how devices will evolve, he said. For next to nothing, you can get a watch from Timex that contains all kinds of features. For $2,000, you get a watch from a high-end watchmaker that will do just one thing—tell time—but do it in style.

While I think the answer is not ‘one integrated device’, I do believe that limited convergence is a good thing.  For example, having my contact book and my phone in one device (a la smart phone) allows me to dial out any of a 1000 numbers.  That said, is there such a thing as the perfect phone?

My friends and colleagues will vouch for the fact that I change my hand phone almost every 3-6 months.  Sometimes it’s a specific feature in a newer model, and sometimes it’s justified as a business need (more memory or a better contact manager or some such thing!).  In fact, for the past several weeks, a friend has been trying to convince me to upgrade to an O2 XDA – a device that’s supposed to do almost any thing short of cooking you a meal!

And I would have, if I’d thought there was a chance that I’d stick with it for a while.   But for some of us, the reality is that there is no such thing as the perfect phone – however converged the device may be.

Quotes from “The World in your Palm?”, HBS Conference Coverage,
Harvard Business School – Working Knowledge, February 2005.