digital implications

iPhone – the convergulator

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Anyway, it was this now slightly outdated concept of convergence that came to mind when I surveyed the different applications I now have on my iPhone.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.


  • James Clay

    However there is a big BUT and this is why even though I have an iPhone 3GS and concur with your post, the big BUT is battery life.
    If I use my iPhone 3GS as a converged device, I either need to use a power supply, connect it to my Mac to keep it going or use a supplemental battery.
    This BUT is the reason I carry an iPod in addition to an iPhone, why I will carry a portable video camera and my eBook Reader…
    Yes the iPhone is more convenient and great, BUT battery life means that as a converged device, for me it fails.

  • David J A Lewis

    although I am not an iPhone user myself, I have heard tell that the big thing that is missing is that it isn’t a very good phone – poor quality, dropouts, etc. You also forgot calendar and email.

  • LaurieJ

    The other “but” is about reliability 🙂 My perfectly reliable, undropped, unrooted Android phone ceased to boot on Christmas day. I’ve now got a temporary replacement from Vodafone, but it’s some kind of old thing that does calls and texts, but that wasn’t what I used my android device for!
    So I am now without timers, tweets/email/google on the move, local live bus times, satnav, my ebooks, a way to find local eateries, google sky, etc…

  • Martin

    @James – I haven’t found the battery life too limiting – I listened to podcasts and played a footie manager game most of the way on a transatlantic flight recently. I do take a little dock charger though (which also acts as a speaker), so can charge often.
    @David – I haven’t had any problems with the phone but I’m not a heavy phone user. But like many of these things, if there are problems they’re temporary, not deal breakers. I didn’t include calendar/email etc because one almost takes those for granted, but you could argue the iPhone is a semi-replacement for a laptop if what you do is email, blog, twitter, etc. I’ve changed the post to reflect this
    @Laurie – yes, the more you give over to a converged device the more vulnerable you make yourself if it goes wrong.

  • Diane Brewster

    Totally agree – I have now attended a few conferences and other ‘away events’ with just the iPhone. Yes battery us an issue – but the new little plug charger that came with it is always in my bag – and a quick top up in a cafe or on the train us not a problem. I now have the morphie juice pack case – which doubles battery life and should give me 18 months of use at current rates – less than £1 a week. I was very sceptical about convergent devices and do still carry a ‘better’ camera around – but the iPhone camera has been the most useful in many situations.

  • Joel Greenberg

    I go to lots of events and almost everyone with an iPhone/Android phone still has a laptop with them. Heavy email users also have Blackberies (that’s why emails from these devices always have a “sent from my ***” at that bottom, ie I’m using a mobile device so don’t expect a long response.) The problems remains the keyboard/screen size and BATTERY. I have an Android phone (HTC Magic) and there are loads of apps, etc. The battery lasts 24-36 hours if I don’t use it! The reality is that these devices require charging daily. My MP3 player (Creative Labs Zen Vision) plays for 12 hours and I have 30 GB of MP3s, all encoded at a very high bit rate. Its small and no more hassle to carry than a spare iPhone/Android battery pack. Good luck putting all of this great music on an iPhone. My kids (25 and 16) have no interest in an iPhone on the basis of not wanting all their eggs in one basket and they view phone cameras as good enough for Facebook but not much else. So, my conclusion is – we are not there yet. Roll on the new tablet devices about to emerge – they may provide the answer, at least for people like me.

  • Martin

    @Joel – I think the battery thing is just a mental shift, I don’t think of it in the same way as a phone, but more like a laptop, so I need to charge regularly. It’s battery life is better than my MacBook. Sure, it’s not going to used for any heavy duty keyboarding, but if I’m away for a weekend then it is enough of a computational device. As for music – it’s double what I had on my iPod, so at the moment there’s plenty of room.
    I reckon if your kids got an iPhone then they’d begin to see the possibilities – it took me having one to find out what the app store could really offer. Maybe we’re not there yet, but we’re very close – that list above is a real list for me of devices it is replacing.

  • Joel Greenberg

    Martin – fair points but as far as my kids are concerned – you have to understand that the phone is the main thing! The other functions are secondary. The only additional function my 16 year old daughter wanted with her latest phone was the ability to post messages on Facebook. In October she sent 2300 txt messages! So there is a generational thing kicking in here. The first people I saw proudly walking around with iPhones were middle age guys. Maybe there is never going to be a universal solution which I don’t see as a problem. BTW, maybe you should have bought a Creative Zen Vision rather than an iPod! And maybe a Toshiba Protege (6 hours battery life in full use) rather than a MacBook!
    I think this discussion could run and run for a while yet.

  • Lindsay Jordan

    Martin, I’d agree with what you said about the functionality of the iPhone in terms of the different apps (my fave is Qik – take a video and store it on the web). For me – I’ve never had an internet-ready phone before – the ‘convergence’ is around the issue of logins; I can be permanently logged in to a number of different web tools, which means I can drop into them instantly; mail, twitter, blogs, nings, FB, Runkeeper, etc etc. It’s just like having single sign-on for… well, everything. It’s my dashboard.
    @James… you gotta remember that you are possibly the country’s most enthusiastic mobile learning bods and most prolific users of portable gadgets, and therefore a slightly different animal to the rest of us in terms of usage patterns. I use my iPhone as an iPod, video recorder, stills camera, GPS and God knows what else… I have even been known to use it as a guitar… and I still find charging once a day is sufficient 🙂

  • Gugoncalves

    Who needs an actual phone when you can text someone / send an update via Facebook or Twitter? If I call my eldest daughter on her iPhone, she doesn’t pick up. But if I send her a text message, she answers right away. It’s irresistible!

  • bali travel

    As we begin 2010, there are over 100,000 iPhone apps available for download — an overwhelming array of choices, but plenty of gems if you know where to look. To help you out, we’ve compiled all of Mashable’s iPhone app reviews in a definitive list to kick off the year. From social media, to business tools, to just plain cool, the iPhone does it best with these App Store standouts.

  • Christopher Kennedy

    A lot of people forget that certain things affect battery life. Try turning off the location finder and bluetooth functions when you’re not using them. Make sure your backlight isn’t set to stay on an unnecessary length of time.
    These can make quite a difference to battery life.
    As a developer of reading based apps for children, I would highly recommend the iTouch as a device to read on or be read to on. What a great device that and the iPhone are as a way to encourage our kids to read more. Perfect as the distraction helper at the dentist, out to dinner or on a plane. There are some fabulous choices for all age groups and more appearing every day with bonuses like dual languages or puzzles. Check them all out iin the app store. And then get an iPad for an even bigger screen and all the same apps!

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