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Whilst smartphones and tablets may look like general purpose devices that support convergence; what is actually happening is that divergence is taking place around different fault lines, understanding those fault-lines is key.

The rise of smart watches and wearables, regardless of how these designs are currently failing, recognise that just the right information at the right time has its benefits. We don’t need a full smartphone screen when ski-ing down a mountain or inside the cowling of a jet engine. On a more prosaic level current mobile devices act as interruption media within our real-life:

  • Pulling out a filofax-sized phone to answer a call, message or email
  • Being torn between responding to the buzz of a message or email on your device an being distracted on a crowded street or a not so safe neighbourhood
  • The inconvenience of hauling out a phone from one’s pocket when sat down watching television due to the ‘phantom ring’ phenomenon

Glanceable devices like smart watches and the socially inadequate Google Glass are designed to try and address these and other similar user scenarios. Whilst the internet has provided an additional way of transmitting media, traditional channels in the home like television and radio still remain popular and are often used in conjunction with other devices like tablets.

Divergence and lean-back versus lean-forward media
One of the things that many people don’t understand is the the different modes of media consumption used by consumers. Using interaction like computer games or the web causes the user to lean forward, the activity requires their engagement and input.

Watching films, reading the Sunday newspaper, a good book or watching television are lean back activities done for escape and relaxation. This provides yet another wedge for divergence. Whilst certain TV shows may result in sharing as users look to extend the ‘couch’ discussion with friends online, this sharing is done on devices that can be picked up and put down without disrupting the ‘lean back’ experience  of the show.

Interactive versus immersive media
At the present time, interactive entertainment like computer games, social networks or web content haven’t replaced immersive content like books or film. There was a time when this looked as if this replacement was going to happen in the near future but something went wrong a long the way: VRML – an experiment in making the kind of immersive interactive user experience that would be familiar to readers of William Gibson’s ‘Sprawl Trilogy’ went nowhere as innovators preferred to build e-commerce sites for pet food instead. Stewart Butterfield’s Glitch and Game Never-ending before it had to be abandoned; Butterfield becoming famous for side-projects to these platforms instead – flickr and Slack.

Whilst televisions are now sold with ‘smart’ capabilities as default, how they are used is less obvious. Devices or services like Roku, AppleTV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix are used as proxies for the VCR of yesteryear, with a correspondingly similar behaviour to a pre-digital age. The main change in the content is less about the internet and more about leaps forward made in storytelling from The Usual Suspects to CSI.

More information
Phantom Phone Vibrations: So Common They’ve Changed Our Brains? | NPR
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