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Afriendly reminder regarding tech convergence: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Afriendly reminder regarding tech convergence: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should


Here is an easy pick for silliest recent example of convergence, or the coming together of technologies or business practices: a leopard-print stun gun from Taser International that can be accessorized with a combination holster-MP3 player.

"These new products are a result of listening to our customers," said Rick Smith, chief executive of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based maker of so-called "advanced electronic control devices." "Personal protection can be both fashionable and functionable."

You just have to feel for the fashionista who successfully immobilizes some parking garage miscreant, only to be snubbed later by her pals for playing the wrong tune at the time.

Book retailer and cafe operator Borders Group Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., may be on the right track with a new concept store that reportedly has a department to help customers download to personal electronic devices digital music and other content. Why not become known as a place to help the initiated and newbies alike buy and use digital content if you are losing sales of audio CDs or movie DVDs to the online world, or if you want to counter a proprietary e-book device offered by rival Amazon?

It seems appropriate to consider convergence issues this week, as restaurant operators, educators, consultants and suppliers converge on Grapevine, Texas, for the 13th Annual International Foodservice Technology Exposition, or FS/TEC. After all, there are bound to be some examples of the phenomenon cited during the conference, and Nation's Restaurant News will share them at a later date.

Irecently asked FS/TEC keynoter Dan Burrus, a technology forecaster and strategist, if there was any low-hanging fruit among converging technologies that restaurateurs might tap to improve sales or relationships with customers or employees.

"It is amazing how many [restaurateurs] are not doing what I'd call simple things, like using Google ad words," Burrus said of what he perceives as the failure of some operators to take advantage of the convergence of advertising and search engine technology.

He says a primary focus of Web advertising efforts should be, "Are you using ad words effectively to make sure that you are on the top of the [search engine] list, versus being at the bottom of the list?"

Maximizing search engine opportunities becomes more crucial when one considers perhaps the best example of convergence: the Web-enabled cell phone. If Web browsing using mobile devices with small displays is on the rise, then being at or near the top of search engine results could mean the difference between snagging customers and ceding them to a competitor.

An interesting example of convergence involves Quick Response, or QR, codes. Popularized in Japan during the past five years, QR codes arrange data in vertical columns as well as horizontal rows, providing much more data storage than a conventional barcode that only arranges its informational treasure horizontally.

Many, if not most, cell phones now sold in Japan can use built-in digital cameras to scan QR codes or similar graphics to display the stored information or pass it to browsing software that automatically takes the phone user to a relevant Internet site. McDonald's restaurants in Japan print such codes on product wrappers, enabling consumers to snap a picture and shortly thereafter view nutritional information for the product they purchased via a specialty website.

Atest of similar technology began late last month in San Francisco that organizers said ultimately will see 500 restaurants and other businesses display two-dimensional graphics like QR codes. Photographing the codes will net phone users fast access to relevant information, such as menus, reviews and historical background audio clips, according to Citysearch, Antenna Audio and technology provider ScanBuy, the firms behind the trial.

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