AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Consolidation in a small package

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Consolidation in a small package

I held a Research In Motion BlackBerry 7100T recently. It's a feature-rich phone with a gorgeous user interface that happens to do email. Earlier, I'd been talking with Nokia about its 9300, a mobile messaging device you can also use to make phone calls. Then, I also rented an Avis Assist unit. It guided me unerringly door-to-door through a bizarre maze of highways and streets on a cheap, monochrome Motorola phone.

So RIM is doing a Nokia, Nokia is doing a RIM, and Avis Rent A Car System and Motorola are doing a low-budget Garmin. I'll tell you why this matters to IT.

It's convergence. Glorious, relevant, beneficial convergence of the sort we want to see in all technology. Convergence is consolidation, and consolidation means you spend less, buy fewer, buy less often and enjoy restored competition as vendors drive through other vendors' hedges.

When you buy a desktop PC, you take a considerable number of features for granted; so much so that you're probably not aware of all the bits that go into a modern desktop workstation.

Who could have predicted that you could buy a single machine - complete with audio, a 32-bit bus, accelerated graphics, high-speed disk drives, 100Mbps Ethernet, and a CD burner - without spreading a lot of money across a bunch of different vendors? PCs have been converged for so long that their usefulness as examples of convergence has faded. I welcome mobile convergence as a fresh take on the subject.

You might think it's gimmicky to have a BlackBerry with a phone keypad and a pseudo-3-D GUI, or a Nokia phone with a QWERTY keyboard.

But even modest commercial success of any or all of these technologies will create pressure on other vendors to match those features. One feature at a time, every mobile device will be capable of doing all of the things these devices do.

What's most important here is that your willingness to ignore the limits you've placed on your expectations is the driving force behind consolidation in any area of the technology market. The high-end PC sound card and accelerated graphics you may have sniffed at years ago led directly to Web conferencing, VoIP, streaming media, rich documents, and metaconsolidation such as that we now see in the Tablet PC.

You still think that BlackBerry phone or that Nokia email handheld is silly?

Dip into petty cash, get yourself one and have a little fun imagining what it will be like when this convergence trend has run its course, and you can take the features of these oddball devices for granted. What magnificent things will grow out of all this silliness?

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