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Saturday, September 19, 2009

And we have convergence...

in: La Perouse NSW, Australia
End of the iPod era

I wanted an iPod but why didn't I buy one? Oddly it seemed like an extravagance at the time and I suppose it still would be. On the other hand I didn't hesitate to buy an iPhone which is several times the price of a top-end iPod even if it is spread over the course of 2 years.

The reason I bought an iPhone 3GS the instant it was available to me is pretty simple. An iPod just plays music. The iPhone is a pocket computer with a phone, camera and an iPod built into it. You can run your life off it surprisingly easily. That only covers the native functions on the device too, the real killer function is the ability to install software from other developers so I now have access to Wikipedia, a dictionary and thesaurus and books in electronic form as well as any number of other useful things. Which is what I wanted but considered unattainable in a mobile only 2 years ago.

It seems rather obvious that once something like this is available that the idea of a regular iPod is going to lose its lustre and that's exactly what's happening. Apple aren't selling too many of the original type iPods. The iPod touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone that can connect to the internet via WiFi and run many of the same applications is selling very well.

Geeks like me call this device convergence. The terminal in your pocket is becoming the single device that you need and it is going to keep collecting functionality. This is both good and bad.

Every time I go past a schoolkid with a rucksack groaning with textbooks I can't help but think that it should be replaced with an iPhone-like device and very easily could be. If that were the case kids would then have always on, on-demand audio-visual learning on a location-aware device. Once you have one of these devices and you begin to think about the possibilities of the thing they become truly staggering. We're only beginning to see the possibilities of the location based technologies in particular. These things are going to change the way we behave and largely, I think, for the better. Mobiles are the information service of choice in developing countries and if access to even low-end versions of this kind of device could make big changes in how information flows around these areas. These are big visions for a small, very expensive thing and it won't happen soon or in an easily predictable way.

There is an obvious downside too. In Japan there is a payment system built into many phones that works like a smartcard that allows you to pay for taxis and other services using your mobile. That's a big jump for a cash-based culture and it will only expand in application. But imagine if you lost it or had it stolen.