Convergence" is one of those hot Internet age buzzwords that describe an important-sounding trend that's always on the cusp of happening. Well, this trend is finally happening.
Digital convergence is the merging of different computer-aided technologies to create something new and useful. After an agonizingly long courtship, TVs are finally marrying PCs, PCs are finally marrying telephones, telephones are finally marrying cameras, and cameras are finally marrying music players, with lots of healthy melting-pot melding among these and other technologies as well.
The wacky convergence devices of last decade, such as the combination refrigerator and Internet access device, may not have been embraced by the American consumer, but today's iPod (http://www.apple.com/ipod) is a bona fide craze, not to mention a device that's richly boosting Apple, Inc.'s bottom line.
The top-of-the-line iPod can not only pipe out your choice of thousands of downloaded songs, it can also play video, display photos, and give you prompts about your schedule, to-do list, and address book, all in the palm of your hand.
Expect the price to be on the cutting edge. A 60-gigabyte iPod sells for $399, plus you'll pay $.99 per song that you download through Apple's iTunes music store. That means that listening to one new song a day will cost you about $760 during the first year.
Not everybody downloads songs this way or downloads them legally. Some who download songs illegally to avoid paying for them are eventually caught and sued. The recording industry reportedly filed 7,000 suits against alleged music thieves in 2005.
Though more limited in terms of personalization and functionality, an AM/ FM pocket radio is an old-technology counterpoint. It costs about $10, and all its songs are free and legal.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Another mainstream convergence technology is using your cable or DSL Internet connection to make long-distance phone calls. You can now use a phone (and the Internet) to connect to a phone rather than having to use your computer.
Vonage (http://www.vonage.com) is the biggest player in the industry, in no small part because of its omnipresent, and catchy, TV commercials. If you're a heavy long-distance caller on a budget, its $24.99 per-month plan can be a good deal. Unlike some other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) companies, it has nearly every area code in the U.S. covered, and the monthly fee extends to unlimited minutes, caller ID, call blocking, and Enhanced 911 calls.
Quality for the most part is equal or nearly equal to landline long-distance service, though customer service has been spotty for some. …