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What the Muses Deign: Convergence isn’t what you think

by Porruka,, March 19, 2001

When you think convergence, especially in this “digital hub” world that Steve Jobs leads us to believe will be the future home of Apple’s products and fortunes, you think technical. You think FireWire (or i.Link, or IEEE1394). You think DVD. You think broadband, IP and intelligent refrigerators. Too bad that’s not what convergence is really all about.

Lose the geek chic

Most of the professional folks who look into this topic look at it from the technical perspective. For some purposes, that’s necessary. Real convergence can’t happen until the technology is in place. If your television and stereo won’t talk to each other, you won’t have home theater. If your computer won’t talk to your cable (or telephone) provider, you don’t have connectivity. But real convergence, the event that will drive the concept forward, lies in people, not gadgets.

Will it play my porn (WIPMP)?

WIPMP is a rather humorous rating system some folks at MacEdition use to evaluate certain (if you’ll pardon the phrasing) handheld devices. I’m not sure the person who coined the phrase knew it at the time, but this is one way of describing convergence at a people level. If you look at the history of various technologies, mass market adoption of the technologies doesn’t come just because it is available. It is because people find a use for it in their everyday lives. Take “push” technology; it is an example of something that certainly was made available to millions. Look where PointCast is today.

No, true convergence – the integration of all these whiz-bang technologies into the everyday environment – will only happen when there is a compelling reason for people to need it.

Duh, that’s obvious

The whole concept of product transition from the early adopters (read: geeks) to the mainstream is fairly obvious. However, it sure seems that many companies, Apple included, seem to think that simply making the technology available will incite riots for the hardware.

Apple is not completely out in left field with its approach. iMovie and iDVD are attempts at taking advantage of an existing market, those people with video cameras. Apple’s timing is suspect, though, as the number of people who want to take the time to edit the video may not be that high. iTunes? People are already listening to music; this may be well timed. Flower Power iMacs? Why not add a fashion sense to your computer? The kicker there lies in how many of the specialty Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian machines the company expects to move. If the numbers are low, all the better. Apple’s attempt to place itself as the “digital hub” for the upcoming digital lifestyle is a wise move, if perhaps a little before its time.

The hub is the center of what?

In order for the hub strategy to work, there have to be devices to connect to it. The connection must provide some value. There has to be some reason for a person to want to do this. Hence, the definition and market timing of convergence is essential to Apple. If the company is even a year early, the effects on the strategy could be devastating. People have to have some reason to go digital. They have to have a reason to connect the iMacHub in their life.

The mass adoption of the digital lifestyle is not there yet. Tantalizing pieces exist, but just like many people don’t find a need for a computer, many people have not yet decided that having their music available everywhere is a normal part of life. Home-theater digital sound and picture are more than novelties, less than commonplace. Networked homes and cars are still more the talk of the geek-elite than the target of blue-collar wages.

Perhaps Apple can accelerate this market formation; perhaps it can grow the niche beyond the niche and into the mainstream. If so, it will have fulfilled one of the foundations of the company. It will have succeeded in changing the world.

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