You will remember, no doubt, that during the late nineties and the first part of the decade, there was much talk of 'convergence' in industry, ie that various industries such as music, news, film, games would 'converge' around the internet. This was in some respects, a dream of the big corporations who read it as 'merging' or 'take-over'. The industries still remained under the same basic model, they just used the internet as a delivery platform. But (I think Clay Shirky has argued this but can't find the quote now), convergence didn't happen like that – it was more like the internet took over these industries and transformed them. The term convergence implies a symmetry to the deal, instead of the steam-rollering that actually occurred.
Anyway, it was this now slightly outdated concept of convergence that came to mind when I surveyed the different applications I now have on my iPhone. I know loads of people will have made this point before, but I've only recently acquired an iPhone and there's nothing like seeing it happen in your very house. The iPhone is like some secret weapon devised by an evil genius, 'I call it … The Convergulator!'. All my other independent devices are now converging (read 'being replaced by') onto the iPhone. Here are the separate pieces of kit I have now replaced by the iPhone
- Music player – obvious I know, but I now have no need for a separate portable music player from my phone, and also something we don't always acknowledge, although I have a docking speakers at home, the idea that I would have a distinct music system for home and for travel has gone.
- Camera – I do have a specialist camera also, and the iPhone one isn't brilliant, but it's getting there.
- Video – i don't even have the 3GS but downloaded an app called iVideoCamera that allows me to record video. Again I do have a specialist video camera (a nice Flip), but do I have that on me when I want to record? No. (App costs 59p)
- Alarm clock – I have a cheap pair of speakers next to my bed and with Alarm Clock Pro I can have some nice display options and wake up to a choice of music. (App costs 59p)
- Running GPS device – I have a Garmin Forerunner which tracks your runs, records pace, etc. It cost about £120. For Christmas my wife was going to get herself one, but instead found RunKeeper Pro. It uses the GPS capability in the iPhone and gives accurate map recording, pace and nice data storage. So she uses this quite happily instead of a Garmin. (App costs £5.99)
- Games console – my daughter has a Nintendo DS (it is almost a legal requirement that a girl of 8 has a DS), but because I got an iPhone she inherited my iTouch. This is now her preferred portable games console. Again, it may not be as sophisticated as the specialist tool but it offers enough.
- eBook Reader – I have yet to play with a Kindle, but when I'm travelling I occasionally find myself without a book. I have downloaded several 'Classics' bundles on the iPhone so I can read some Dickens, plus I have the Guardian app (cost £2.59) so I can read all of their content.
- Digital radio – I use the TuneIn.FM iCar radio app which acts as a digital radio perfectly adequately. (App costs £2.59 or there is a free version).
- SatNav – we already have a TomTom so I haven't actually bought this, but the software is available for the iPhone so that could act as your sat nav system (App costs £59.99).
- Portable DVD player – this is a 'not quite', but we've begun to experiment with loading the iPhone with films for my daughter to watch on trips.
- Laptop – okay, not really, but if, like me, what you mainly do is blog, email and twitter on your laptop then for a short trip away the iPhone is sufficient to act as your computing device
And that is without all the 'normal' convergence you get with just having the internet. In each case the specialist device outshines the iPhone version but the iPhone apps will get better and crucially, it is always there. I remember saying in 1999 that people don't mind carrying separate devices because none of the converged ones were good enough. That's not the case anymore, I think the iPhone has reached the point where they are good enough. And, if you set aside the initial outlay, the cost saving is considerable – most apps are free, 59p or £5.99 at most (the TomTom being the exception). This type of convergence is a result of the generativity Zittrain talks about – opening up (to an extent) the app store has meant that niche developers have filled the gaps previously occupied by separate companies and devices. This isn't confined to the iPhone – we'll see similar with the Android I expect, but it's the example I've seen unfolding before my eyes.
And I believe it acts as a phone as well.