Whenever I hear the word “Convergence” I think of the parable of the blind men and the Elephant. One dude says: “This is a Phone.” Another says: “No, its a PDA.” The Marketer says: “This is the most powerful gaming system known to man.” All the while I’m thinking it’s just a camera/mp3player with voice recorder that also tells time.
The big companies have been promising convergence for years now, and we are finally entering the age wherein every gadget is a veritable electronic Swiss army knife. Yet convergence comes with a host of problems. How does one market something that does so many things? How does a designer make all these functions usable? How will the user find the functions in the first place?
Many have approached the problem by basing the device on a small computer, wherein the interface is all on screen. This is very flexible, but loses something the best hardware has always had: the ability to use it without looking at it.
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With the N-Gage, the recent announcement of the new Nokia 6600, the Sony Ericsson P900, Palmís updated Treo 600 and a veritable army of other convergent devices, mobile phones seem to be paving the way in combination devices. However, not to be left off the bandwagon, PDA manufacturers are adding more and more functionality to their products. Handspring pioneered the way with plug-in peripherals for their Visor line. In addition to the basic PDA, you could purchase GPS, camera and even mobile phone attachments. In theory, this concept was ideal as it permitted maximum flexibility and gave consumers a choice. The reality was that users didnít want to pay for the extras and those that did complained about carrying the extra components.
Last fall, my girlfriend Kathryn and I received PDAs for our birthdays. I elected for a Palm Zire 71 (alas, a mere week before the Tungsten T3 was announced) and Kathryn got an HP iPaq 2215 Pocket PC. While she was replacing her aged Handspring Visor, I was in the rather unique position of being a first time PDA owner - unique for a gadget addict, at least. What would it be like to use a feature-laden PDA when I didnít even know the first thing about the most basic PDA functions?