Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Convergence, Convergence, Convergence

Some may believe that we all would be happy carrying around an MP3 player, a phone, an ebook reader, a game machine, a sat navigator, a PDA etc but reality is that we only have limited pocket space and time to master these digital platforms. Technology convergence is therefore inevitable and today’s reality. Convergence is not just about portable devices it applies in the office, the home and the car.

At last Ford have seen the light and is building a sync system based on Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system. The in-car navigation and infotainment system will be jointly announced at this month’s Detroit Auto and Consumer Electronics Shows.

This is not the first deployment of high-tech gadgets into the car. Last year we reported and even showed pictures, in our ‘Brave New World’ report on Ford, BMW, Volvo, and others when they put input jacks for iPods into certain 2007 models. GPS systems are common in today's age of connected driving and the cell phone hook-up is now ubiquitous.

Sync is designed not just to let drivers navigate better, but also download and listen to music, talk by cell phone, and even get e-mail without using their hands. It will debut in two US Ford models, the Focus and Five Hundred series, in 2007, then expand to all Ford models in the 2008 model year.

The questions are now down to the law and how it limits their use. However, the technology is not going away and having one system may make it easier than juggling many devices. It is also inevitable that voice recognition technology is just around the corner - that is if the kids in the back can keep quiet for long enough! Mind you seeing all those drivers with blue flickering lights emitting from their earpieces is not a pleasant sight.

Another interesting opportunity comes with the concept of the ‘smart car’. No not those ‘design bypass’ cars that look as if the car has been chopped in half on they have lost the back end, but cars that start to use information in real time. Running low on fuel? It will direct you to the cheapest or nearest petrol station and feed maps and traffic alerts on route. Building on voice technology it will read out email, alerts and other messages and automatically pause or silently record other media to be resumed later.

As we have previously pointed out the tipping point in the car industry is when the major car rental companies come onboard and include them in their standard specification.

I suppose the days of the family playing ‘I Spy’ whilst driving down the motorway are now gone. They are being replaced by dad’s iPod and loud humming, mum on the phone to everyone and no one, the two kids watching the video player in the back and the poor dog just pining for attention.