Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Digital convergence makes for some strange bedfellows; these often turn out to be little more than a one-thing fling. Last year, for example, Olympus fumbled after spending big on a SuperBowl ad with the m:Robe 500, an attractive hard disk-based digital music and photo display device with a camera unworthy of the company's heritage. The m:Robe 500 could not play video, but its large screen indicated a dilemma common to many products in this emerging category. Go too small and you have an unsatisfying visual experience. Design a player too large and you lose portability.
The most successful digital portable video player to date has been Apple's iPod with video, the apologetic name of which serves as evidence that Apple was unwilling to compromise the device's appealing size for a very large screen. But Apple's competitors have been missing the mark in terms of targeting the video player at a market that has embraced wisps of products such as the iPod nano. Forget the jogger; the driver is a better target for portable video.
As the portable audio market has been adding such features as PIMs, podcasts, and pictures, the portable GPS market has also been adding functionality while shrinking size and prices. As a result, the traditional boundaries between automotive and personal navigation products is starting to blur and the product category has attracted domestic interest from Sony, JVC, and other consumer electronics companies.