Android 2.0 and the Death of Consumer Electronics

Last Updated Oct 29, 2009 6:00 PM EDT

The year was 2009; the month, October. News came of the end of the last specialized consumer electronics device. The GPS, which had seemed destined to continue its existence, passed on at the announcement of the Google Maps navigation feature on Android 2.0. OK, a bit exaggerated, but not by much. The current stock of smartphones is showing how many categories of consumer electronics are simply going to disappear, because virtually no one will need them -- particularly when the feature set is so much richer. The vision of device "convergence," long touted as something to desire, will suddenly bite a lot of vendors on their rear ends when they realize that it also means a tumbling opportunity to sell product and, ultimately, a shrinking consumer electronics market.

People are talking about the new Motorola Droid being a GPS killer, but that's just one category. Next up, cameras, both still and video -- 5 megapixels (often more than enough, as I've found in my photographic work) with white balance, scene modes, and 720 x 480-pixel "DVD quality" video images. Right now too grainy, according to the PC World review, but something that can certainly be fixed.

Other categories? How about MP3 players? If you look at unit product sales for Apple, it's clear that as the iPhone increases in popularity, the iPod falls. Granted, that still leaves millions of the units going out store doors, but it suggests what will happen when a majority of handsets become smartphones with storage and user interfaces that make the devices a natural choice for downloading and playing music.

Portable DVD player? I don't know about your family, but my daughter watches video on her iPod touch. Digital recorder for taking notes? Please, not with a straight face. And with the applications available now or soon coming you, consumers will have all manner of software that will eliminate for many (though not all) the need for a netbook or laptop. But while everyone is drooling, there must be executives scared witless. As you roll first one thing and then another into a single device, you eliminate the need for additional purchases. It's the logical extension of the march of semiconductors, with a single chip adding ever more functions. Eventually you buy only a fraction of the chips you once needed, and a lot of companies try to figure out what to do with their spare time. Now that's going to happen on a device level, when suddenly there's nowhere left to run for anyone.

Image via stock.xchng user mzacha, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.