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Thu 13 Oct 2005 04:00 AM

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Ultimate devices

Vendor alliances will take centre stage as the PDA, media player, digital camera and mobile phone vendor manufacturers realise that teaming up where it makes sense is the only way to develop the ultimate in handheld devices.

Vendor alliances will take centre stage as the PDA, media player, digital camera and mobile phone vendor manufacturers realise that teaming up where it makes sense is the only way to develop the ultimate in handheld devices.

With major vendors now predicting that the ultimate device — fusing the very best in PDA, digital camera, media player and mobile phone technologies into one sleek package — is just 18 months away, the time has come to really look at how important vendor alliances will be in achieving this goal.

These are alliances that must extend beyond the pure hardware devices to also encompass the software and operating systems that this new breed of products relies on. We’ve already started to see the first steps down this road with alliances between the likes of Apple and Motorola to build iPod functionality into a mobile phone now a reality.

It’s a start, but there’s still an awfully long way to go — and the technology industry does not have the greatest track record when it comes to working together for the greater good of the customer. In fact, there are several obstacles that need to be overcome.

Top of the list of obstacles is the inescapable truth that some vendors continue to feel ‘precious’ about the quality of their technology. Regardless of the sales figures, or the perceived wisdom of the wider customer base, it still remains very difficult for some to hold their hands up and admit that a rival’s technology is actually much better than their own in-house offering.

This inevitably leads to an overwhelming reluctance to work together with rival vendors to build a device that incorporates best-of-breed functionality from each specific area required. That has to change if these devices are going to become a success.

Consumers trust certain brands in certain areas and it is only by linking this best-of-breed brand equity together in an effective manner that the wider vendor community will build mind share and acceptance for all-in-one devices that do not ask users to compromise on functionality and quality.

Want an all-in-one device that combines the very best of an Apple iPod, Canon digital camera, HP PDA, Nokia phone and Samsung media player? Sounds enticing doesn’t it, but there’s no guarantee it will ever be available. In the battle for market dominance, these vendors are being thrust into a world of co-opetition where they need to simultaneously co-operate and compete for market share and consumer acceptance.

These issues of co-opetition go way back in the IT industry — there’s nothing new here. However, the whole concept of convergence and the blurring of the boundaries and distinctions that used to separate the worlds of IT, telephony and consumer electronics is bringing these issues into a much sharper focus.

These sectors no longer exist as standalone units capable of moving in their own unique direction. The future success of the wider industry is now inextricably linked across all these sectors.

Moving away from the device sector, it is the same story facing the vendors looking to lead the evolution of the digital home. Those vendors making flat screen displays for the living room need to figure out exactly how they will work with the wireless networking and IT vendors wanting to turn the digital dream into a reality.

I’ve just returned from Western Europe and took the opportunity to visit some major IT and electronics retailers. Expecting to see the digital home in all its glory, it was a shock to see amateurish displays and messy bundled offers comprising various products from various vendors purporting to offer a seamless solution. The industry needs to figure out where it is going (and fast) to avoid customer confusion.

Vendors need to work together at an early stage to truly make their mark in the race for the next generation of integrated and converged products. Distributors, resellers and retailers should not be afraid to speak out when they see vendors heading off down the wrong road. As the conduit between vendors and customers, the channel needs to make itself heard and play a pivotal role in defining the evolution of the future market.

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