That Pesky Convergence Stuff

“One thing we’ll be talking a fair bit about today is the relationship between the PC and the phone. That’s something that will be changing. When you get value added on your PC without having to switch the phone that you use simply by having the PC be aware of what’s going on, that integration, we think, is a very critical one and one that’s influencing the PC hardware.” —Bill Gates at WinHEC 2003

Auntie was looking over the WinHEC transcripts, and that prediction jumped out. What? Is Microsoft bringing up the notion of computer-telephone integration again? TAPI, the Telephony API, was introduced back in 1993. At the time, we were told to look forward to computers with integrated telephone handsets and exciting application possibilities, such as using caller ID information to automatically bring up contact information on a screen when the phone rings.

A full decade later, at Microsoft’s premier hardware event, we’re told to look forward to, well, the same thing. To be fair, there are other gosh-wow pieces to this year’s model, such as seamless transferring of calls between connected devices, automatic integration of phone data with Instant Messenger sessions, and integrated voice mail. But, at the end of the day, it’s still just basically sticking the computer and the telephone together.

At the same time, one has to admire Microsoft’s persistence—to the point that one wonders about its motives. It’s easy to imagine a planning meeting in a latte-filled room somewhere on the Microsoft campus. Now that every man, woman, child and dog who can afford a PC has one, operating system sales are inevitably slowing down. But what if Microsoft owned the OS market for telephones? Now there’s a growth opportunity! I’m not saying it’s true, but this scenario would certainly explain the continued attempt of the Redmond folks to drum up interest in Computer Telephony Integration, as well as their pursuit of the SmartPhone market (despite the fact that, so far, their entry in that market looks like an also-ran).

Regardless of the cheerleading at WinHEC, I’m not ready to start barking up this particular tree. Are you? Let’s think about some typical usage scenarios. First, today’s telephone at Chez Auntie:

The phone rings. It’s the auto repair guy, and we chat for a bit about the Hummer. I hang up and dial the grocery store to see if they have fresh kiwis in stock. While I’m on the phone, the call-waiting signal comes on, and I pop over for a brief chat with Fabio. The phone rings a bit later, but personal matters prevent me from answering it. The machine picks up, and I hear my editor politely inquiring as to the whereabouts of this very column. I pretend I’m not home.

Now, fast-forward to the fabulous Windows-converged future:

The phone rings. It’s the auto repair guy. After his contact information shows up on the screen, pop-up ads for auto refinancing and the new Expedition hurl themselves at me. I hang up and tell my computer to dial the grocery store. It mishears the voice command and dials information for Grover City, California, where the operator knows nothing about kiwi fruit. While I’m trying to straighten out that issue, the call waiting light comes on. I try to pop over to the other line, but the computer blue screens and I lose both calls. The phone rings a bit later, and my screen says it’s my editor. I try to pretend I’m not home, but she sees my Instant Messenger status and sends me an IM that says, “Pick up the darned phone!”

For most of us, the telephone is a device that does one thing and does it well. It never needs rebooting, it doesn’t receive intrusive ads while a call is in progress, and it doesn’t need to have its software reinstalled every six months. Until my computer can say the same, I’ll leave convergence to someone else.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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