While walking the floor at the TECHXNY 2001 trade show (formerly PC Expo) last week, I noticed several interesting technology trends. The most important trend is the increasing convergence of computer technology, consumer products, and home integration—everyone wants to play in this convergence space. Almost every major vendor on the exhibition floor was showing a home-entertainment-related product, and often the product seemed far from the scope of the company's usual activities. We expect vendors such as Sony to be leaders in computer and home-entertainment technology integration, but mainstream computer-technology vendors such as Hewlett-Packard are also entering this convergence space. HP exhibited a prototype of its living room home-entertainment unit, which takes the company completely out of its usual domain and into the world of consumer-entertainment hardware.
The other trend I noticed is the popularity of the convergence device. For non-computer-literate users, these devices offer the convenience of not needing a computer to perform tasks that we typically associate with a PC. The largest manufacturer of devices in this class is, not surprisingly, Sony. An example of this kind of product is Sony's digital camera picture printer line. These products take the memory storage out of your camera and can print a 4 x 6 photo image that looks like it came from your local film developer. Sony offers several of these products that do everything from printing the image and displaying it on your TV to storing the image on a built-in CD-RW. You can't do much photo editing with these devices (some vendors, such as Iomega, offer the ability to crop photos with their non-PC devices), so if you want to clean up your pictures or enhance them in any way, you still need a PC. But for the snapshot junkie, these devices offer a quick photo display and print solution.
At first glance, convergence devices seem like a good idea for the nontechnical user, but in the long run, these devices will probably just present another class of problems. After buying a bunch of these gizmos, users will realize they can get more value by connecting them—either to each other, to a PC, or to the Internet. I don't think this class of device will go away; I just believe that eventually vendors will realize they need to build in some form of connectivity (e.g., 1394 Serial Bus, USB, Ethernet) to every home electronics gizmo. It doesn't make sense, either from a usage or economic perspective, for users to buy a lot of devices with overlapping capabilities. And a connected home that lets these various consumer devices connect with each other and share their capabilities is where we want to go.