unified deviceApple is buying Quattro Wireless… and coming out with a tablet computer. Google just announced its entry into the mobile phone market. TVs air programming streamed from the web (or from a PC in the next room), and soon they’ll accommodate HD video Skype calls. All this digital convergence has to make you wonder: are there still digital channels, or is digital just becoming, well… just plain digital – a channel unto its multiplicity of selves?

Devices just aren’t specific anymore. You play games on your phone, surf the web on your TV, and watch TV on a wireless handheld device. Is it still talking “on the phone” if I “dial” via Google Voice on my Blackberry, or via Skype on my laptop? Are you “watching television” if you’re viewing an episode from your favorite series on Hulu, YouTube, or iTunes – and watching on a PC or tablet or even a phone? “Reading the newspaper” on an ebook reader?

And will all this convergence make marketing simpler, or much more complex?

Even CPG is suddenly going digital. Microsoft today announced that rather than selling boxes of disks, consumers this year can save money by purchasing a card bearing only a product key code to unlock Office 2010. Granted that card represents more meatspace presence than many other software vendors occupy on retail shelves, but still. This is Microsoft.

Hard to say if this acceleration of convergence is new-new, or just the fulfillment of Web 1.0 prophecies, e.g. “everything that can be digital, will be.” What it does is herald a new phase, if not an altogether new era, in digital marketing.

We’re moving from a time when you had to optimize a site for multiple browsers to a period of optimizing not only for browsers, but for screens that are measured in feet… or in inches. Cookies will crumble into morsels too fine to leave a breadcrumb trail as more and more individual consumers access the Web on more and more devices, from more and more places. Incompatibilities that may seem minor now, such as Flash sites not working on Blackberry devices, will multiply exponentially as devices, compatible and otherwise, pile up in consumers’ living rooms, and pockets, and desks.

The marketing challenges of an all-digital, all-the-time era are daunting. Take ad-serving, for example. Demographic, behavioral or almost any kind of targeting get sticky once you’ve got one user exposed to your message on a clutch of devices. How will marketers optimize for all platforms, all of the time? How can messaging be personalized if you don’t really know if a user is one-to-one with you, or sharing your message on a huge, flat-panel screen with family and friends?

As technology options burgeon more questions are raised than answers. But they’re questions marketers must begin to ponder as digital becomes ubiquitous in ways we didn’t think possible even a few years ago.

Image credit: Syfy