Envisioning the Future of the Digital Culture

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-06-11

Envisioning the Future of the Digital Culture

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the not-too-distant future, you'll be hard-pressed to find any device in your residence that isn't able to be controlled from some other location.

Yes, we are referring to those connected toasters and refrigerators that have been talked about for more than a decade. But we're also talking about remote control security and access, temperature and electricity monitoring, powered shades and blinds, entertainment centers, and a long list of other items.

They all will be controllable from anywhere on Earth through an iPhone, BlackBerry, laptop or netbook.

These were hot topics of conversation at the Connections 2010 Digital Living Conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center June 9 and 10.

For example, if you're out of town on vacation and worry if you left the thermostat up in the house or the oven on in the kitchen, no worries. You'll be able to check on -- and fix -- these things without having to bother the neighbors.

If you want to see who's ringing the doorbell without having to leave your comfortable place on the sofa, you'll just push a button on the TV remote and channel in the security camera above the door to see who it is.

Go here to view a slide show on the highlights of the conference.

If you want to let the visitor inside, simply push another button and the door lock will open for a few seconds. You'll probably be able to check on the person's criminal background before you let him or her in, as well -- although that wasn't discussed at the show.

If you want to change the room temperature at home before you return from work, you'll tap into your home network through your iPhone and make the adjustment. That way you can save heating and cooling costs by having the apparatus off during the day when you're not at home.

The Connections conference brought all these ideas together in one ballroom. Though there were not a high number of companies represented, there were plenty of ideas being demonstrated.

The good news is this: All of these digital living products and services are available right now.

Everything Points to Complete Connectedness

"Everything is pointing to the inevitable, intractable seamless integration of content and devices of all types through wireless connectivity," Tricia Parks, CEO of Parks Associates, host of the conference, told conference-goers on June 9.

"But what's left after that great statement is, well, when and how? What we're looking at is: What things advance the evolution, and what things put up barriers? We're counseling to do less of the latter and more of the former."

Parks' research shows a great many trends, but the key ones are these: smartphone sales are expected to keep on a steady up-and-to-the-right movement for the next 3 to 5 years; name-brand identity is very important to consumers, who are quite willing to spend more money for perceived quality in products and services; and online purchasing isn't going to level off any time soon. In fact, it is increasing at a 30 to 40 percent clip each year.

Another relevatory metric put forth by Parks: The market for tech support for home networks amounted to $1.9 billion in 2009; it is projected to increase to more than $6 billion by 2014, according to Parks researcher Kurt Scherf.

Innovation Wherever One Looked

There were a lot of innovations to see at the event, including smart TVs, wall-size HD monitors, a cloud-based TV service, a mini-router, and specialized web-based services ranging from entertainment listings and 24/7 IT help.

Listed by company and in no particular order, here are some of the highlights:

Yahoo's Widget TV platform: Introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2009, this is now starting to get some traction with OEMs.

Widget TV is software embedded into CE devices that mixes broadcast/cable television and homeshot video into a single presentation layer. The software, included as standard in TVs made by Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio, enables control of content and applications as you would see on a laptop or handheld device.

Users can easily check e-mail, Facebook or Twitter accounts; upload photos or video to YouTube, Webshots and Flickr; or do any number of other things using this platform.

Widget TV already has a community of about 7,000 developers working on apps, Yahoo said.

Samsung: The Korean electronics giant has been proclaiming "thin is in" for new LCD monitors for a while now, and as the economy continues to slowly heat back up, more homeowners are looking at upgrading their TV screens in favor of connected units that can do a lot more than just show broadcast and cable channels.

Samsung's lightweight new LCD monitors -- which can be tiled to cover a good portion of a wall in a family room -- can be hung on the wall, like paintings, and the HD quality is excellent. They are designed to replace big, bulky home entertainment centers loaded with furniture that take up a lot of floor space.

4Home:  The company's Home Control service also enables users to control appliances, thermostats, motion detectors, powered shades and blinds, and a list of other items from software that runs on the home network server and sensors in the network. Users of the 4Home package also can check the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity utilized in the home in a few seconds and make adjustments as necessary.
The service can use an iPod, BlackBerry, laptop, netbook or TV monitor in the house as an interface.

D-Link: Already well-known for its enterprise routers and other connectivity products, D-Link also makes home network components, including a wireless home server, network cameras, SmartCode connected security door locks, lighting controls and wireless keyboards, among others.

Using this system, a homeowner can know everything that's going on at his or her residence from anywhere in the world at any time.

CloudTV: San Jose, Calif.-based ActiveVideo Networks has a fast-rising service called Cloud TV, which  provides a clearinghouse for a household network's entertainment and communications functions.

With this cloud-based service, users can hook together their TVs, game consoles, DVRs, Blu-ray players, smartphones, appliances and cable set-top boxes to share all that audio and video content among all other devices in the network.

For example, a home video shot on a cell phone can be uploaded to the service and shown on anything with a screen in the system. ActiveVideo already has 5 million subscribers.

PlumChoice: The Billerica, Mass.-based company has been doing remote technical services since 2001 and features different levels of services, starting with a white-label service for enterprises and ranging into the consumer space.

The company announced June 8 that it has earned a patent for its SAFELink service, in which a remote technician takes over a PC or server and makes software fixes for the user.

Level4: This full-service El Segundo, Calif.-based systems integrator has the tools to bring all these new connected technologies together for business or consumer users. The company also handles strategic planning, media strategies, business intelligence, media management and other services. Level4 focuses mainly on user experience and interface design.

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