Just over 8 years ago, I wrote a Forrester report titled “A Manifesto For The Digital Home,” outlining what needed to happen from a consumer’s perspective for the true “digital home” to become a reality. (We defined the digital home as a single, unobtrusive network environment where entertainment, communication, and applications could be shared across devices by multiple household members.) A lot has changed in the intervening years, but are we really any closer to that reality now?
From a consumer’s perspective, I hypothesized that four things needed to be in place to make the digital home a mainstream reality: flexibility (of connection, exchange, and ease of use); control (of sharing, data privacy, and what goes where); security (of personal information, bought content, and communications); and mobility (of devices, applications, and content). Of course, all of these needed to be underpinned by affordable technology and desirable content and applications.
For this to work, the digital home needed five key technology elements: a network (or, more likely, multiple seamlessly bridged networks); great interfaces on multiple devices; centralized storage; some form of central management function with the intelligence to manage the network, storage, and access issues; and great content that had been “digital-home-enabled” — i.e., able to be shared, backed up, and transcoded without licensing or technical issues.
Some things I got right:
- Device-agnosticism. More and more stuff will run across a variety of devices. Interestingly, this has been driven by social media and content owners promoting browser-based or streaming solutions rather than (as predicted) standards organizations or by an altruistic streak in the hardware manufacturers — most of those efforts have got bogged down in copy protection or years of certification.
- Streaming content. Referred to somewhat quaintly as “broadband VOD” at the time, the streaming of content has taken off in a big way in major markets, mainly to prevent other distribution methods (legal or otherwise) taking hold. Advances in broadband speeds and compression technologies have exceeded even my optimistic expectations at the time.
- Easy networking. This has happened, sort of. Surprisingly, instead of the vision of a co-operating set of network technologies working together where they are best suited (3G/4G outside the home, Wi-Fi for computing, ZigBee/Z-Wave for appliances, etc.), we’ve ended up with faster Wi-Fi crammed into pretty much all devices with 3G as the “just works but it might be expensive” fallback. This certainly makes the network topology easier, and attaching to secure Wi-Fi routers is much easier today than it was 8 years ago. But I can’t help feeling we’ve missed a trick here; the reason those low-power, short-range solutions existed was to facilitate much broader connectivity without security or configuration issues. In addition, Wi-Fi is still an expensive option (both in terms of power and components), and this has held back the networking of non-traditional devices.
(I’ll continue this series with analysis of stuff that didn’t happen as expected and what has happened that couldn’t be anticipated in my next post)