Everyone seems to be in a contest to identify the next disruptive technology. From organic electroluminescence to the iPod, various technologies and devices have been presented as radically changing the way we look at the world.

When is a cell phone no longer a cell phone?

However, I believe that most of the recent turmoil in the electronics industry is due more to the convergence that is going on at every level than to any one thing. Convergence is a phenomenon that has and will continue to change the very way you live, work, and play.

Convergence is occurring on many fronts, from device functionality to software to applications, each fueling one another's development. The trick is in determining the best way to address the ramifications of this growing-together of everything and everyone.

What this means for engineers is that designing a device that serves a single application is often not good enough anymore, and that one must also keep in mind all peripheral usages and inter-device operability. That new cell phone not only has to make calls, it has to be able to surf the web, play games, handle email, watch TV, and play any kind of media the user desires.

The danger here is the temptation to lard a device with excess and often pointless functionality to provide the marketing department with a lot of bullet point for the ad. As always, it is more important to understand the needs of the user and the marketplace to ensure that the device can serve its core application well while being flexible enough to address peripheral needs.

The iPod family of portable media devices is a perfect example of this philosophy. They are easy to use, clean in design, and their functionality is only limited by the imagination of the user. The latest generation iPod is many things to many people —a music player, a portable hard drive, a video, movie, and still image viewer —and yet it doesn't suffer from feature overrun or button clutter. The fact that half the industry is making peripherals for the iPod also demonstrates the flexibility in application vital to success under the convergence paradigm.