Connected Home – 4 Perspectives #connhome

At this week’s Connected Home Summit, organized by Informa, where I had the privilege of chairing Day 2, one of the panels on the day had Google, HBBTV, BBC and MgMedia. Consequently, 4 distinct perspectives of the connected home emerged, which was quite fascinating. Because whatever you’re doing, it’s probably a good idea to look at all 4 to see if your idea makes sense.

The data perspective, from Google

In the super-engineering world of Google, the problem is broken down into its constituent parts. Data, processor, connection, network and the ability to bring these together to solve specific problems. In fact Kevin Mathers, from Google argued that the “home” was just a construct, and it could apply just as easily to the car or any other context. The problem would still be the same and would be addressed the same way.

The brilliance of this approach comes from the disaggregation – it allows you to look at different groupings of these elements to create the multiple contexts. And mastery over the elements means you can quickly create any context you choose – home, car, retail, etc. However, exclusive focus on the parts can create a danger of missing out on the importance of the ‘whole’ – the context. After all, Google has in the past been accused of being less good at the softer (social, consumer & design) aspects of the business than the engineering side. Here too, the question issue might well be that the understanding of the home as a context is as important as getting the engineering right. Therefore such a strong engineering oriented approach might need coupling with product and usability thinking.

The device perspective – BBC iPlayer

Gideon Summerfield works with the iPlayer and so his big challenge is about getting it to work on a plethora of devices. Unsurprisingly, his view of the connected home is a device centric one. It’s about getting devices to talk to each other, and be able to seamlessly share and play media. The TV is clearly the centrepiece of this view of the connected home. But there is significant growth across connected devices.

Informa suggest that 33% of all video playback devices will be connectable by 2016. The charge will be driven by connected TVs which are set to go through almost a tenfold growth to about 900 m by 2016. Other connectable devices will include blu-ray disc players, media streamers and games consoles.

By all accounts DLNA is still not as seamless as we’d like it to be, but there is near universal agreement that it’s the right way to go. The DLNA/ UPnP approach is being adopted by more and more devices. And an increasing number of services, such as media sharing service Zappo.TV are implementing DLNA. Other major initiatives such as Ultraviolet, from the DECE are going to find their way to market later this year, to provide another fillip to streaming content. The much heralded YouView devices should also help the market along.

The network perspective

David ‘Boris’ Felt from HBBTV took a more network centric view of the connected home. The home network is an area of huge innovation and change. Wired and wireless, new and old wires and any number of technologies ad standards abound. It seems like consumers ideally need a high speed network for content and possibly a low-speed network connecting many more appliances – for control, automation, energy management etc.

This informative piece from the Hidden Wires magazine cites research pointing to how the lower end DIY segment and the high end custom-install segment are both moving towards the more central mass market, through the no-new-wires approach. Key to this are PLC,, Zigbee, ZWave and the role of KNX.

Boris also pointed out the importance of distinguishing between the physical and virtual network, and also, the internal versus external network, for delivering information/ data / voice/ video solutions. I can set a program to record on my PVR, using my mobile phone, with no direct physical connection between the two. It’s the external network at play here, that is enabling this, and in a sense this is the virtual network of the home.

The content perspective

Jeronimo Macanas from MgMedia felt the connected home should be about content being streamed around the house. A slightly broader definition of content of course would suggest that any kind of packaged information – including healthcare or energy information is also content. While this is slightly limiting because it can exclude automation and control, it is certainly an important driver of connected homes. 

Of course, in the content space, a lot of the excitement is about the impact of connected TVs. The Strategy + Analytics presentation at the recently concluded Connected TV Summit suggested that there will be a significant value shift the gate keepers in the current model (PayTV providers) to the content creators and aggregators, as and when connected TV numbers shift. Of course, this is still under 10% globally, so the change is yet to come. But between connected TV sets, new set top boxes and every increasing broadband speeds, this is a reasonable surety.

Which is right?

The point is, ignoring any of these perspectives would be a mistake. If you’re planning a connected home service – either as a telco, a TV platform or an external service / content provider, you need to evaluate your service from each of these perspectives. Evaluate it from its modular data, processing and context perspective to ensure that it’s extensible and malleable enough. But also, understand very clearly the device, network and content/ data perspectives and ignoring any of these aspects will limit your service capability.

It was a great privilege to listen to the professionals on the panel and I certainly took away this idea of 4 distinct perspectives which are complementary viewpoints of the connected home. I hope this helps you too.


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