Technologies Converge in New Products

By Epstein, Jeffrey H. | The Futurist, November 1998 | Go to article overview
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Technologies Converge in New Products

Epstein, Jeffrey H., The Futurist

You may carry a TV, computer, and more in a single pocket device.

New personal electronic products are being created through the convergence of existing technologies. While stand-alone televisions, computers, and other devices will not disappear soon, it is already possible to buy combination products with multiple functions.

By adding a TV tuner card to your multimedia computer, for example, you can use a PC as a TV. Combination computer and television systems are also now on the market. At the same time, set-top boxes allow access to the World Wide Web through a home television without a computer.

These new consumer electronic devices created by convergence have been doubling in sales and dropping in prices, according to the Consumer Electronic Manufacturers Association (CEMA). Consumers will buy one million set-top Internet access systems this year, the industry group estimates.

Sales of digital versatile disc (DVD) players are climbing fast, CEMA says. DVDs are an advanced form of compact disc that can include video, music, and text.

Electronic personal organizers, meanwhile, may be the precursor to even more advanced pocket devices. A British product design company, Cambridge Consultants, says it is developing a personal communicator that can capture and display images and documents as well as voice and video.

But predicting just what new products will be invented and when we'll see them is difficult, says Brian R. Gaines, a professor at Canada's University of Calgary. "The main problem in forecasting the future of convergence and information technology in general is that the learning curves of most of the major performance parameters still appear to be in their initial exponential growth phase," he says. "This makes it impossible to predict the later parts of the curves from past data. For some parameters there are basic physical limitations to existing technologies that indicate that current growth rates cannot be sustained beyond some 10 years. However, there are possibilities for new materials and new architectures that could maintain effective growth rates for the foreseeable future.

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