Mobile data appliances and the internet will lead the charge to convergence. Television and the desk-bound computer – often our first thought when we talk “convergence” - will come along as a second phase, says Ericsson’s Steve Crombie.
Both mobile use and internet use are on such a high growth path that they will have the force to lead the charge, he says.
Crombie heads one of the most keenly watched convergent efforts in New Zealand; the joint venture between phone company, Ericsson, and Wellington-based software developer, Synergy.
He is giving a talk to the Computer Society this week on "the dream of convergence."
Scepticism about the potential of wireless internet owes a lot to “the position we’re starting from,” Crombie says.
“A lot of us can’t appreciate the benefits of [mobile internet access] because we’re from the generation that hasn’t had it.” Its application isn’t an easy extrapolation of our current use of internet or mobile phones for information and entertainment – nor how we’ve used video material for these purposes through television.
“There are applications like this (he raises an imaginary digital video camera communicating with his cellphone and scans the room.) ‘Well, Bill, you can see where I am; looks nice doesn’t it?’”
Where more conventional keyboard/screen application are concerned, our experience means we feel some discomfort in operating through a small screen and limited keyboard, Crombie acknowledges.
But those cultures that have this brand of convergence for longer don’t seem to have that problem.
Initial applications for wireless internet will be those straightforward pieces of office administration we lose touch with when on-the-road; email and schedule synchronisation – being able to view several colleagues’ diaries and set up a mutually convenient meeting time.
Ericsson is “ already integrating these application for New Zealand users," and at least two - which he declines to name - have them operational.
Ericsson has a product called Mobilizer, he notes; a “small client” in the phone that allows on-the-move access to an Outlook database in the office.
But “these are early-entry applications,” says Crombie. The “killer apps” will be all around e-commerce.
“We’re working with ASB, for example, to make their internet banking mobile.”
In the near future, small transactions could be processed from the phone to transfer funds from buyer to seller, or put it on the buyer’s phone bill.
These applications will start to happen “when the bearer technologies catch up,” he says – when GPRS or CDMA come into use.
“When information hits the mobile, it hits a very personalised device,” says Crombie, and this will require more personalisation of transactions and advertising.
The phone, of course will not always be the tool of choice for mobile wireless data; the Palm “has a graphical language suited to fast data entry” by pointing to options on the display. Ericsson has a new phone device called the 380 with a wide touch-sensitive screen. This is available for developers now, with a full release scheduled for early next year.