When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide

The more technology changes, the more we stay the same. Up to a point.

Too often technology convergence is spruiked lavishly as if the melding of technologies into one device is a true meaning of life that escapes most of us until it is too late.

Visions of a single machine that embraces equally phone, e-mail, calendar, music and photography are still not fulfilled. Sure, there are machines the size of your hand that can do all this and more, but each design lends a distinct preference for a particularly technology. Multi-purpose gizmos made by phone companies are best at handling voice, while the likes of HP or Dell create their converged nirvana around e-mail and multimedia messaging.

For some companies, convergence means collision. Products, management and culture can be so wrapped up in their old technologies that their very existence inevitably meets the wall of oblivion at G-force. Traditional camera companies know this only too well. Some have committed old technologies to ritual suicide, knowing their future can never be a repeat of their past. Eastman Kodak's recent decision to stop making point-and-click APS cameras and focus only on digital photography has been seen as a watershed decision for its industry.

This is a company trying to embrace, not collide, with convergence.

It is a painful journey. Sales in the last quarter of 2003 were down 20 per cent on the previous 12 weeks and demand for film dropped 11 per cent. It has responded by announcing 15,000 lay-offs, on top of the 22,000 jobs that have disappeared since 1998, and committing itself to new technologies to fight off new competitors.

Phone manufacturers, consumer electronics specialists, such as Sony and Samsung, and even film companies like Fuji and Konica, have changed their business models already and they - not Kodak - hold the advantage in this converged world.

Eastman Kodak is not the only company in this unpleasant position. Investors who play roulette at the Nikkei table of the Japanese Stock Exchange have been sending south the shares of Nikon and Pentax in recent times. The once Herculean hold of those companies on the photographic market is gone. And it shows in their most recent six-monthly sales and profit statements to the market. Their industry has changed beyond recognition in the space of three years and they have been caught like rabbits in the headlights.

The experts say, however, that despite all the gadgets captured in one plastic chassis, we are far from the perfect convergence. Gartner's Ken Dulaney said recently: "There will never be a converged device that suits everyone. You can read your e-mail on a camera but that is not optimal."

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