Convergence. Remember that word from the dot com era? Well, it's back and this time it actually has substance. Convergence in the 90s meant combining old media with new media, a.k.a. the Internet. The 2000 merger of AOL and Time Warner was a failed $200 billion attempt at convergence. But fast forward to 2012 and convergence is happening for real this time, thanks to Internet-connected devices in the house and a rapidly growing app ecosystem. Entertainment now flows freely through home networks, to multiple devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and television sets.
According to one research firm, 2012 will be when convergence really hits its stride. A new report by IMS Research states that 2012 will be when the consumer electronics industry "finally realizes the promise of multi-screen content consumption."
This trend is primarily being driven by the rise in Internet-enabled portable consumer electronics (CE), such as smartphones and tablets (the green bars in the graph below). But also IP-enabled TVs and other entertainment devices (the light blue bars).
It's not just Web connected hardware which is proliferating. Software is also finally fulfilling the long-held promise of convergence. We saw a great example earlier today, with version 3.0 of the video aggregator app Showyou being released. ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell described it as "the remote control for web video."
The beauty of Showyou is that you can watch videos on a variety of devices: PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, Apple TV. While I was eating my lunch today, I sat down in the living room and opened both my iPad and TV. I surfed to a music video on Showyou that I like and pressed the Apple "airplay" button on the iPad to transfer the video to my TV (via Apple TV).
I'm not entirely convinced that 2012 will be the year when this multi-screen promise is realized. During my lunchtime, I fiddled around a bit with Airplay before I got it working. Also home networks are not particularly user friendly for non-technical people. 2012 may well be a tipping point, when convergence within the home begins to take off. But we're not at the point of great user experiences yet.
In its report, IMS Research noted that an apps ecosystem for devices like the TV will be a key enabler of convergence in home entertainment. It also pointed to the growing amount of digital content available to consumers and "the changing habits of consumers regarding accessing, consuming and sharing digital content."
IMS Research predicts that the market for IP-enabled CE devices will grow from 2.2 billion devices shipped in 2011 to 3.5 billion in 2016. Note that this is just for home entertainment and portable consumer electronic devices. We reported last week that mobile industry group GSMA is predicting growth from 9 billion to 24 billion Internet-connected devices worldwide. The GSMA's figures include things like connected cars and IP-enabled washing machines.
Have you begun to consume entertainment in your home across multiple screens? If so, let us know in the comments what your current favorite household apps are.