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Monday, June 25, 2007

Five Enemies of Convergence

Convergence is a general trend, but I think product makers are getting smarter about what works and what doesn’t. I see 5 real enemies of mobile (the device in the pocket) convergence, all needing extra ordinary attention.

1. Marketing - the hazy cloud
It is hard to highlight the superiority of a balanced multi purpose product. The consumer has such a strong view that it has to be a lowest common denominator, or just pure feature creep. A good example of this schizophrenia is the N95 which is camera, music player and phone, of which no feature is overly dominant in the visual design language of the product, it is sold as what computers have become, I don’t get it. A N95 really from design point of view communicates phone in my opinion. Here I like SonyEricssons approach of leveraging their Walkman and Cybershot sub-brands, they still have the Playstation brand unexplored. Nokia Nseries is a good idea, but a bit watered down, something that can be fixed with the new org. I think there should not be more than one Nseries in each main product category. Still it is not as clear as the assets SonyEricsson has, through the Sony heritage.

2. Battery life - the dissapointing reality
Battery adds bulk and is one of the key parameters of trade-off in design, so product makers typically select one that is smaller than needed, hoping that the energy management engineers working far from decision makers early on in the life cycle of the product would pull a miracle. I can easily perform way more task during a day than I have battery life for. The N95, which is my favourite phone, is short on battery life. It is just a nudge better than annoying. I think one would need about 50% more to be adequate for proper convergence use.

3. Physical Usability/Ergonomics - Expensive solutions exist
Usability broadly interpreted is a real challenge for convergence as product creators (Product managers, Industrial Designers and UI designers) tend to solve convergence by adding keys. The N95 is a hedgehog of keys and most of the convergence keys take the user into a menu, rather than to content. I have written about physical device transformation and that is a great solution, albeit expensive and complicated to make.

4. Text Input - Basic research needed
Text input is one of the biggest challenges. There has been little advancement in the past decade. T9 and Zi Easy text is now 10 years old. The RIM debuted small thumbable QWERTY is approaching same age. Predictive touch keyboard have been around since the PalmPilot days. SMS and E-mail are the most sticky of the non voice services on a mobile, so solving this is crucial. There is in my mind way too little basic research in this domain. Miika Silfverberg from Nokia and Scott Mackenzie has done some work, but I have not come across anything I really like. touch qwerty on the iPhone will be the real acid test.

5. Memory - More is better
I ran out of memory on my N95, I have the 2GB MicroSD card in it and it is full. What made it full was music, I got a new pair of headsets, a super compact high end Sony, they are so flexible, compact and comfortable that I started using the phone as a music player. The N95 headset is too clumsy. I put some albums on it and started to download podcasts, I also shoot more video, now that the resolution crossed the magical VGA and all of a sudden it was full. (Update 27/7: David from Nokia mailed me and said 4GB cards are now available here. The folks from mobilememory were fast, I got it the following day, well done, thanks!. It will keep me going for a while, I ofcourse just added a gig of music, now some 22h of music to dig to.)

Potential solutions
Battery life and Memory can partly be solved by making the PC connection better. By designing the phone to be a natural extension of the PC, where the PCs storage capacity and USB is used for charing one can create a type of intelligent cache, where content is rotated for freshness and frequency of use. This I believe will become one of iPhones real USPs as 100M users know that they should connect their iPods to the PC for transferring songs or charging it.

Bigger screens will prevail and hence one either needs to master mechanics, through sliders or do major advancements in touch screen technology. I like the concept of the double slider in Helio Ocean, it just makes sense and could become a dominant design. At some point thin is thin enough.

09:47 AM in Technology | Permalink


hi christian, i am an frequent reader of your blog.. quick one, what kind of headseat do you use from sony.. want to get the same...
headsets, a super compact high end Sony,
best juergen

Posted by: juergen at Jun 25, 2007 12:57:32 PM

The storage issue is not an issue at all. In the future when we all have flat rate data plans we will stream everything on our personal computer to our mobile devices. Services like ORB already allow this.

Battery life is the tough one, but we're getting better. The next generation of the TI OMAP is built on 65 nm with 45 nm versions planned.

As a frequent reader I'm interested in what your thoughts are on the Palm Foleo.

Posted by: Stefan Constantinescu at Jun 25, 2007 4:16:33 PM

"""Battery life and Memory can partly be solved by making the PC connection better."""

If Nokia chose to use USB, this would have been so easier to realise. Their new small charger format is so frustrating.

I agree with you on input. I hope the early betas of OpenMoko's touch screen interface improve drastically. It is amazing how much we've regressed since the responsive and fast T9 text input of the legendary Nokia 3210.

With regards to "convergence". I think the biggest hurdle is to people to focus on the Web. Once designers see that mobiles implement the Web, we can explore a lot more options in mobile computing. Bring on "Web convergence".

Posted by: Kai Hendry at Jun 25, 2007 4:55:38 PM

Well, as Apple tries to have a patent for the touch pad for computer (=iPhone), so why not to patent a text input given with that touch pad? It can't be so hard to write letters with touch pad on the backside of a phone...

You could even write chinese letters easily. And symbols too, so it would be easier to communicate without any literacy skills. A hit for the developing markets?

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