Wednesday 25 April 2012

Convergence or Compromise?

One of the questions analysts asked Apple's CEO Tim Cook during the financial results call yesterday was for his views on the future for a converged device such as a cleverly designed notebook pc that can also be used as a tablet.  Analysts and many parts of the media just don't seem to understand that it isn't about what it's possible to build (however cleverly).  It is about the user experience.  Time and time again this mistake is made by forecasters and pundits.  Within Apple, it is ingrained corporate understanding.

Yes of course it is possible to make converged PC/tablet devices; indeed some companies are already doing so (defensively as Tim Cook characterised it). And a relative few people will be attracted to such devices and will buy them.  But the mainstream majority will evaluate the converged experience and see so many compromises that it is obviously worse than the experience of either individual device.

It's not just about physical design compromise.  It's also about the way people actually use and interact with devices; that is also very different for the PC and the tablet.  Some people will want and need to work in ways that best fits the notebook PC (however portable, lightweight, high res, etc it may be).  An increasing majority however, who never had a choice before, just want and need to work in ways that best fits a tablet.  And many people who never wanted a PC, find that they do want a tablet and can be extremely productive with it.   And the Apple's tablet, iPad, is finding uses and applications that the notebook PC would never be deployed in (such as electronic versions of flight data for airline pilots).

I was writing papers back in the early 90s when I formed BT's devices research unit in which I then talked about co-operating devices which were excellent at what they individually do, rather than converged kludges which try to be a swiss army knife 'jack of all trades' but are inevitably a master of none.  The reason I gave for my minority view then, although I couldn't have known it was exactly what Tim Cook said yesterday, that it is all about the user experience.

My next article will take another example of how the user experience focus of Apple looks at another popular and topical concept from a different perspective.