Convergence and Connectivity in the Home
Last week the Internationale Funkausstellung was held in Berlin. This is the largest consumer electronics convention in Europe, equaling and perhaps surpassing the CES show that occurs every January in Las Vegas. One of the central themes behind major new product launches was the Internet and the central role it is now beginning to play in the wirelessly networked home.
This has been something that has interested me for years and a subject about which I have written here and here in this blog. As recently as five years ago, the topic of convergence was a speculative, hot one in media and technology circles. The convergence discussed then was would there be convergence of the computer and the television? Would people ever fully accept viewing television content on the computer? Well we now have the answer to that loud and clear: yes! Even Steven Jobs doubted this would happen. He famously said that the profound difference between computers and televisions was that people leaned forward when interacting with computers and leaned back when watching television and that therefore this content convergence would not happen. Well it did.
Now this convergence is combining with wireless connectivity to begin to change the connection of technology in the home. The long predicted vision of technologists and futurists of the home of the future where everything is connected and can be monitored and controlled is now beginning.
Sony introduced plug-in adapters to allow some of its Bravia television sets to connect wirelessly to the Internet. Phillips introduced stereo systems that wirelessly tap into music stored on computers or laptops in the home and stream that music through out the home. Most of the flat panel TV manufacturers introduced models that connect to the Internet both with and without wires.
To those of us that keep abreast of technology and media, all this doesn’t seem too radical, just a logical next step. We are in the early adoption phase of this new trend. It is interesting to point out that it is our media orientation that is starting this development. Our need, desire and sense of convenient right, to watch whatever we want, from whatever source we choose, is what is driving this early wireless connectivity within the home. Internet video, television channels and stored digital music files can all now be wirelessly available in all parts of the home.
This will have seismic affect on the viewing of content. Right now the television channels have the benefit of exclusivity in the living room. We have all grown up watching television programs on the ever bigger screen in the living room. Anything on the Internet must be watched on a computer screen. Once there are more than 20% of households that have televisions sets connected with the Internet viewing patterns, and therefore audience ratings, will change. The ever lower audiences of broadcast networks, and, to a lesser degree, cable networks, will fall even further. Just think of being able to turn on your big flat screen TV set in the living room and watch YouTube, streaming video from any web site around the world and, of course that Internet favorite, pornography (and we thought pornographic web sites have big audiences today!). An almost infinite number of web sites on the flat screen TV in any room of the house will further erode traditional television programming.
The combination of the Internet and high speed wireless connectivity continues the economic and institutional disintermediation that has been a regular theme here in this column. This new home based development is now breaking down the barriers of appliance and technology silos. The TV is merging with the computer and the Internet, the computer is merging with the stereo system and it now possible, though yet demanded by consumers, for appliances such as the refrigerator, the home HVAC system and practically any other appliance to be wirelessly connected and monitored via the Internet.
We are now moving into that universally connected environment that was once only in the realm of science fiction. When this new technological trend ultimately combines with the emerging touch and voice interface that will replace keyboards, the ease of use will be nothing short of amazing. Imagine walking into your home and speaking to a wall monitor: “Please turn up the air conditioning, warm the oven to 450 degrees, put the Beatles on in the house sound system and search and download onto the flat screen TV any new videos from today on YouTube about the presidential campaign.”. However, in this new digital landscape there are still things that will remain analog such as walking upstairs and taking a shower, but of course the Beatles will be there to keep you company.