Digital convergence is a much-maligned concept – but it’s an idea whose dawn is near. First proposed by Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 book ‘Being Digital’.
Negroponte’s definition of Digital convergence is “Bits co-mingle effortlessly. They start to get mixed up and can be used and re-used separately or together. The mixing of audio, video, and data is called multimedia. It sounds complicated, but it’s nothing more than co-mingled bits.”
The factors driving digital convergence include the rapid digitisation of content, greater bandwidth, increased processing power and the Internet. Digital convergence brings four (previously) distinct industry sectors in collaboration/competition with each other. Thus, we have Media/Entertainment, PC/Computing, consumer electronics and telecommunications industries all interacting closely with each other than before.
On first impressions, ‘Mobile’ appears to be only a small part of the entire digital convergence domain. When we wrote OpenGardens, we approached the topic of ‘Openness’ from the perspective of the Mobile Internet and the Mobile Network Operator. By it’s very nature, ‘openness in mobility’ is a subset of the wider digital convergence across all sectors of technology and business. Thus, it seems restrictive to confine ourselves to ‘Openness on the Mobile Internet ’ and the Mobile Network Operators. Yet, we believe that the Mobile Internet is pivotal to the success of digital convergence.
We believe that – the more open the mobile device, the more it will be a focal point to digital convergence
Why do we say this?
The answer lies with the customers. Customers do not understand ‘Digital convergence’. They are more interested in what they can do (or cannot do!). From a customer perspective, they see a ‘Bi centric’ convergence – i.e. convergence around the ‘Person’ and convergence around the ‘home’. This can be illustrated as below.
source: Ahonen and Moore – communities dominate brands
The impact of Bi-Centric convergence means suddenly, the customer is exposed to a range of devices and technologies all around them. These devices have considerable overlapping functionality. The customer’s choice is between a ‘specialised’ device or a ‘generic device(i.e. a digital ‘Swiss army knife’) device .
While specialised devices may provide the ‘best’ solution for a specific requirement(such as taking a picture), the mobile device often provides a ‘good enough’ solution. Also, the mobile device gets better each year(for example – the Samsung D500 has a 1.3 megapixel camera and is marketed as a mass-market phone). And finally, the mobile device is ‘handy’ i.e. it provides an instant solution (‘capturing the moment’) which is good enough for most requirements.
With the Mobile device becoming the digital ‘Swiss army knife’ the basic functionality of a phone(voice calls) has been supplemented by functionality of a mp3 player, digital camera, radio, games player and even television. While the mobile device will not cannibalise the specialised device, it will be the device ‘most often used’ by consumers to access digital content(even when there are other devices that can provide a technically superior solution to a particular problem).
Thus, we believe that, starting with 3G (the first true IP solution) – the mobile device will be the focal point of Digital convergence purely because customers will use it most often to access digital content!! . It is this observation that makes the Mobile Internet the focal point of the wider digital convergence.