Now that we have the iPad (notwithstanding its flaws), will eBook readers die? What is the future of Blu-Ray players as TVs converge with the Internet? Will the Flip die now that we have video cameras built into iPod Nanos? Will handheld GPS devices seem quaint when every smartphone has built-in GPS functionality? Is there a future for a dedicated TiVo devices? A common theme in all these questions is – do dedicated devices eventually die because devices converge? Do devices converge as technology advances? Looking back at history, we see examples of convergence as well as examples of dedicated devices persisting. The PC is the ultimate convergent device, and many a dedicated device (word processors, fax machines, NCs – Network Computers, etc.) have been sucked inexorably into the pull of the “do it all” PC device. Even at the software level, Microsoft Office is a convergent suite that sucked up dedicated functionality from WordPerfect, Dbase and Lotus into one package. Yet, dedicated gaming consoles have been able to resist the forces of convergence. And the TV-VCR combo didn’t catch on either. What gives?
My take is that, like all questions in marketing and strategy, the right answer is – it depends! I believe that convergence (and the consequent death of dedicated devices) is a function of several contingent factors. So, rather than taking one side or another of this debate, I would like to reflect on som principles that will help predict whether we will see convergence win out in a specific context. So here are some assertions: