The art of convergence

Combining computer technology with consumer electronics

getting a high-tech makeover. The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers’ Association points out that information appliances such as Internet-enabled telephones-Cidco Inc.’s (www.cidco.com) iPhone, for example-were hot items at its annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. The device, which costs $39.95 at the Website, features a graphical screen for displaying Web pages and can be hooked up to a keyboard so users can send e-mail.

Not only is convergence transforming the home, but it has also made its way behind the wheel. In January, Clarion Corp. wowed both the computer and auto industries with its AutoPC (www.autopc.com), a device that merges computer functions with a car’s audio system. “People already use cellular phones and are toting laptops around with them in the car,” says Steve Roth, Clarion marketing manager, “so why not give them wireless access to e-mail and a satellite navigation system, as well?” Clarion’s $1,299 AutoPC device also includes extensive speech-recognition capabilities to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel.

Analysts agree that the appliances we have seen to date are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to convergence. But does that mean we’ll live in a technologically crazed world more suited to computer scientists than consumers? Not necessarily. Says Khademi, “Information appliances must cater to behavior patterns of people. If [prospective customers] see the technology, we’ve lost them.”

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