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The cons of convergence

Convergence can be convenient, but do we really want our phones to do everything?

Ella Morton

commentary Convergence can be convenient, but do we really want our phones to do everything?

Unsteady camera angles: tick. Moby's gentle piano plinks dancing in the background: tick. An array of youthful, attractive-but-not-conventionally-so people of varied nationalities captured in seemingly unscripted moments, confessing their passion for a consumer technology device: you'd better believe it. Yep, it's a promotional video, and I'm watching it at Nokia's Sydney headquarters where the company is previewing its latest N-series phones.

Moby's melodies build as the video cuts between people. "It's my window, you know? Like, I can look through it," purrs a pigtailed gamine, in her sexy French accent.

"I'd call it ... my magic box," says a lovely lady with dreadlocks.

An American woman in funky threads gets philosophical: "It's the world in your hands. Think about that: It's the world in your hands!" Hey now, no need to get derivative; Mastercard was spruiking that concept yonks ago.

Nokia's magic box

So what has these young spunkrats in rapture? It's the Nokia N95, a "multimedia computer" with a world-first combination of GPS, HSDPA readiness and Wi-Fi. If that's not enough to get you waxing rhapsodic about a heroic magic box, howsabout the 5-megapixel camera, "Lifeblog 2.0", music player (with dedicated media management keys), photo/video editor, document viewer and support for USB mass storage?

Here's the thing. It's a hot phone. Looks good, does a swag of useful stuff with a sprinkling of fun, all that. But my contention is this: does anyone really want to give up all their dedicated devices for one product, regardless of how much it promises to enrich our lives? Now, I am all for convergence when it makes sense. Some things just go together nicely; they make sense. The GPS/phone combo, for example, smacks of logic. You're lost and forlorn but for a phone -- just use it to find your way back home.

But while such things work in theory, there are cons to convergence. For starters, if there's an issue with but one facet of your multi-talented device, and it needs to be sent off for repair, there goes your "world" for a few weeks. And what about design and interface issues? Sure, it's cool to be able to do the old Google background check from your phone while you're on a first date, but browsing the Web on a teeny screen and having to type URLs on an itty bitty keypad gets tiresome pretty quickly.

When compulsive convergers combine and get overexcited, you get things like the Nokia N-Gage. Remember that gaming/phone combo? That's OK, not many do; it flopped big-time, with clumsy design features and expensive proprietary games contributing to sales that were less than half of the projected figures. Derisively referred to as the "taco phone" on account of its silly shape, the N-Gage proved that adding cool functions to a mobile device won't work if simple things like design and useability take a back seat.

Is there anyone out there who has stopped using their camera or MP3 player in favour of a phone with music/photo capabilities? It would be most gratifying to hear from you. I need to know you exist.