Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

The Meaning of Convergence

Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

The Meaning of Convergence

Article excerpt

Industry insiders recognize three levels of convergence. At the first, broadband platforms converge only from the consumer's perspective. Consumers today, for example, might perceive the branded news services they use on their broadband PCs and their mobile devices to be identical, but this impression is illusory: the service provider must construct two largely separate infrastructures to support a similar customer interface on the two platforms.

At the second level, infrastructure converges. The provider of, say, an e-mail service would integrate the architecture across all three broadband platforms so that each user could have a single mailbox accessible from any broadband access device. But since these devices differ for each platform, the service would have to be individually tailored; attachments to e-mail, for instance, could be useless to someone accessing them from a personal digital assistant (PDA), which might not have the application needed to open the attachments or enough storage to accommodate them. The e-mail service must therefore be intelligent enough to exclude them when a user accesses e-mail through a PDA but to include them when the user accesses the same e-mail through a PC.

At the third level, the user's experience and the portal architecture would converge regardless of the access device or platform.

First-level convergence has already arrived. Companies are developing it partly to prepare for the time when second-level convergence becomes the norm rather than for immediate gain. So far, attempts at third-level convergence (offering full World Wide Web access on the TV platform, for example) have had little success. Third-level convergence is unlikely to flourish for at least a decade, mainly because of the differences among the devices used to access broadband networks-television sets, PCs, and mobile devices-and the dissimilar contexts in which these devices are used; it is hard to type text into mobile telephones, for instance, and a television screen is unsuitable for displaying long printed texts. The solution will probably come not from a single technology but from innovation in several areas, including voice recognition, interface design, display technologies, and short-range wireless infrastructures, all of which will take time to develop. Convergence at level two, however, is quickly gaining grou nd.

A number of factors are promoting convergence among platforms. …

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