Connected homes part two

A couple of columns ago, I looked at the race among computer and consumer electronics vendors to grab dominant positions in the connected home. That column touched on the fact that few consumers understand how to turn the concept of a connected home into reality, even once they have all the gear. They’re just not sure how to get computers, home theatres, stereo equipment, home security systems and whatever else working together.There’s a need, I suggested, for resellers who have expertise in a broad swath of computing, networking and home entertainment technology to offer their customers help in putting it all together.

Soon after writing that column, I talked with Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, in Rome where he was speaking at consulting firm Accenture’s Global Convergence Forum. I learned that his organization had already seen the same need.

The CEA, a U.S.-based trade association of consumer electronics manufacturers and the sponsor of the annual blockbuster Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, recently got together with the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), its counterpart in the computer industry, to create a certification program for resellers able to provide installation services across both home computing and consumer electronics.

Good move. Helping consumers get the pieces to work together won’t necessarily guarantee the success of the connected home concept, but it’s a necessary step if the idea is ever going to get beyond early adopters and propeller-heads.

Meanwhile, the debate over who will own the connected home continued at the Accenture conference. The most sensible answer I heard during a panel discussion on the connected home there was that maybe nobody will or should own it. What we’re after is for an assortment of gadgets to work together. That doesn’t mean any one of them must be dominant.

Whether the “control point” of the digital home is will depend on what the consumer’s priorities are, commented Kumu Puri, Accenture’s consumer technology industry practice lead. Those priorities divide consumers into at least five segments – productivity, imaging, gaming, music and video – and each segment suggests a different dominant device, such as the PC for productivity and the digital video recorder for video.

But everyone who provides a piece of the connected home, from the makers of computers, TV sets, and so forth to online content providers, will be looking to capture as big a share of the customer’s wallet as they can. Panelists talked about who gets to provide the “first screen” that will display on a digital TV when you turn it on. This first screen might be something like an electronic program guide with advertising. Electronics manufacturers, carriers and content providers will all be vying for this coveted spot.

And yet, as one of my colleagues perceptively asked during a GCF panel discussion, why shouldn’t it be the consumer who owns the first screen? Of course it should be, though vendors will no doubt compete to set theirs up as the default and many consumers won’t bother to change that, just as many Internet users stick with their ISP’s Web site as their browser’s home page. But in a broader sense, it is the consumer who owns the connected home, and remembering that will be just as essential to its success as making it easy to implement.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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