Convergence is fascinating, as it brings new possibilities of change to a better life every single day. Innovation, at the dual axis of technologies and industries, is driving its rapid adoption. Also, significantly enhanced functionalities and services orientation are aiding the growth as well.
In March 2011, Toyota had unveiled a plan “the future of mobility” under Toyota Global Vision, where it elaborated on how the company is approaching the future of automotive industry. It sketched the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) and its roadmap towards a better driving experience and a safer vehicle at the same time. It touted predictive driving support based on the history of the driver behind the wheels, the location and time; communications exchange system – between vehicles, the road and ecosystem of pedestrian and infrastructure; and an information network for disaster response that would push towards a goal of nil casualties. At the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013, Toyota also displayed its self-driven cars, a step closer to bringing the future to reality.
When we look back at the industry a decade ago and then see the software platform, connectivity, user experience, active safety, network grid etc. recently leveraged by automobile manufacturers, it has certainly been a giant step for the industry. The trend is not limited to Toyota only, other car companies such as Ford, GM and Audi have talked about some amazing technology initiatives (such as self-driven cars, app development platforms and open source car etc. ) as well. The Connected Car Consortium made up by more than 80% of the world’s auto manufacturers has created common standards for Smartphone and in-vehicle connectivity. Car companies are no longer talking about enhanced driving experience, driverless car etc. at an auto show, but at a Consumer Electronics Show! Convergence is mainstream now.
At a primary level, new technologies are enabling more and more industries to move into an overlap zone. We talked earlier about automotive, even the medical devices segment, not being left untouched by convergence. With significantly increasing healthcare cost and people living longer, preventive care is moving into the patients’ hands. Today, more than 3.4 million senior citizens in US use sensor-based network care monitoring solutions at home; this figure was just 0.1 million 6 years ago. Even devices designed for physicians; aim at simplifying jobs by either handling complexity better or by providing real time decision support information. IBM’s famous supercomputer Watson not only defeated two of Jeopardy’s best players in 2011, right now it’s learning more at Cleveland Clinic to help physicians reduce errors in diagnosis in the future and effectively handle medical information that doubles every 5 years.
Core elements to enable technology convergence are miniaturization, sensors, connectivity, imaging and platform-based development. Computing devices are getting smaller, lighter and faster with miniaturization of processors. Sensors are getting cheaper enough to be used more commonly across industries and products. Connectivity is getting more reliable and faster, and pervasive smaller devices are enabling convergence. Imaging as a technology is maturing with better algorithms, camera resolutions and processing powers, making it a core element to drive convergence. Platform-based development at embedded and application levels is providing a new dimension to leverage the technology foundation.
Convergence and new technologies have helped users significantly in not only making products and devices more customer-centric with improved user experience, better services and reduced prices, but in also breaking traditional monopolies and strongholds. Amazon is a classic example; it can no longer be classified into a traditional industry. Its ecommerce business is challenging all traditional retailers and yet providing rock bottom prices to consumers with amazing customer services. It has vertically integrated a book distribution business with a publishing business now creating an open market for writers. In Sept 2012, Amazon mentioned that 27 of the top 100 Kindle books were created using its publishing system for direct publishing. And with the publishing industry itself moving towards ebooks (In 2011 Amazon announced that for every 100 printed books, it sells 105 kindle books), Amazon has now further extended its range of Kindle e-reader and tablet devices which are also among the most affordable in the market. Add to this, the market-leading Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform that was originally created for internal purposes but today runs both its own video streaming service as well as that of Netflix’s. In fact, AWS alone is expected to top $3.8B in revenues in 2013 up from $650M only 3 years ago. Now Amazon also plans to create its own content for the streaming service through the Amazon Studios where it plans to crowd source scripts. Amazon has the thinking, platform, appetite and long term vision to drive the services convergence. Google, with its various online properties, Android and its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, is another prime company to take significant advantage of the same. Apple also drove the same strategy by owning the complete experience stack that revolved around iTunes, iOS and leveraged it across multiple product and market categories with significant domination.
But for convergence driven by new and innovative technologies at the intersection of multiple industries, who would have thought that Google would be the first to develop the driverless car and not a traditional car company? As always the best is yet to come. We are just scratching the surface of what a converged world can look like. As the human machine interface grows smoother, devices get smarter, sensors become ubiquitous, human life will get better and safer.