iPhone: it's not really a digital convergence device

It finally gelled in my head what bugged me about the iPhone’s lack of simultaneous processing.  It’s not truly a digital convergence device.  It’s a sequential task device.

A digital convergence device is a device that does lots of things: MP3/FM music player, alarm clock, cell phone, web browser, calendar, address book, GPS-enabled map, pedometer, etc.  The purpose of such a device is to do all of these things, not each of these things.  If I can’t do them all simultaneously, it isn’t a convergence device, it’s a sequential device.  The iPhone is exactly that: a sequential task device.

If I’ve decided I’m going to IM, I can’t do anything else with the phone – I can’t browse the web, can’t check on news feeds, can’t check email.  The device is useless to me until I get an IM.  If I wanted an IM-only device, I’d have bought one.  I bought a digital convergence device.  The same could be said of any app that receives data: Skype, Google Voice, Email, RSS feeds, Facebook sync, texting services, RTMPGs, etc, as well as anything that monitors anything like Google Latitude, a pedometer app, navigation app, etc.  Anything I expect to alert me to something or to keep track of something either needs to “push notification” me, or I forfeit all other features of this device as I use it for that task.  If it goes the push notification route, the logic must be in the cloud, not on my device, can’t be peer-to-peer, and can’t get real-time status call-backs – e.g. it can’t auto-detect where I am and update my progress.  As an extreme example, I can’t count the number of times I was playing some random game and walked around for a while looking for a clock so I didn’t need to kill my game.  My convergence device was in “single task” mode.

The notable exceptions to the single-use mode are all Apple apps: phone, iTunes, and alert apps such as calendar and text alerts.  I can get a call which immediately and irrevocably halts anything I’m doing (including upgrading OS versions), and I can listen to iTunes music while I do a few other things.  But what if my music player of choice is Pandora?

I think you see where I’m going with this.  The iPhone clearly isn’t a digital convergence device.  Neither is the iPad.  It is clearly a sequential task device, a data snacker device.  Pick the function you want it to do now, and it’ll do great.  Want to do 2 things at once?  Well of course, buy two of them.  Want to get alerted when something happens?  Buy a specialty device too.  Um, I think I’ll pass.