Sunday, November 25, 2007


One of the universally accepted themes of IT in the last few years is "convergence". Markets are merging, technology is standardising, and gadgets are getting common components, all driven by the internet.

So what does "convergence" mean? Actually there are three different convergences taking place:

Device convergence

Firstly, devices. Phones, laptops, TVs, PCs, and even cameras and satellite navigation systems are increasingly sporting the same features (operating system, internet access, camera, touchscreen) and can access the same applications. Apple's use of Mac OS X across its complete product range - iPhone to 24" iMac - shows the way forward.

Device convergence means that the consumer electronics industry is becoming something more cohesive - call it the "internet device" industry. The industry-spanning strategies of Sony and Apple will win - expect mobile phone companies (e.g. Motorola) to merge with PC companies (e.g. Lenovo) to compete.

Despite this standardisation, hardware is actually getting more important, not less - note the success of innovative products like the Wii and iPhone!

Network convergence

The second type of convergence is for networks - the IP protocol has won. Broadband, phone line, cable, mobile have just become different ports into the internet. That explains the focus on the triple play (mobile, broadband, landline) - it's all becoming the same thing.

Networking is a utility industry, albeit one experiencing rapid technological evolution. The players - e.g. Vodafone, AT&T - are terrified of becoming utilities, but there's nothing they can do to stop it.

Application convergence

Silicon Valley has won this battle - applications are moving to the web. Simple old HTML and javascript have somehow beaten massive corporate creations like Java and dot net (not that many technologists outside Silicon Valley have realised it yet).

There are only two successful business models in Silicon Valley - adverts for consumers, and subscription (i.e. software as a service) for the enterprise.

Different industries

These three convergences are delivering three massive new industries - the internet device manufacturers, the networkers, and the application providers. They're very different industries, with different business models, regulations, capital investment patterns, and rates of change.

So there's one type of convergence that I really can't see working - convergence across industries. That includes Nokia (Ovi applications will never compete against Adwords), Google (what do they know about operating a network?), Vodafone (spare me the "Vodafone live!" closed garden). Even Apple, so great at hardware design and OS software, haven't yet built a hugely successful website application.

Next time you hear the "convergence" word, watch out for which industry is being mentioned. Though the internet might drive all three, they're very different!

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