Connected Home: Mountain or Molehill

  • Posted on: 31 July 2009
  • By: Patrick Oliphant

The Telecom Council met in May under the title, “The ConnectedHome: Services and models”.  The meeting looks at how suppliers and manufacturers were responding to the needs of consumer in creating the connected home environment.  See what Intel is doing here - Intel’s Vision of Next Generation Connected Homes.  In April Ericsson released their finding on a survey they did entitle “IPTV and the connected home” what consumer want from advanced TV services and the Connected Home. I mentioned these because the “connected home” is a growing topic and is now a frequent topic in media, telecom and other technology gatherings.

This week The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) announced that through its Connected Home Research Council, is launching a groundbreaking research project to explore what the future will look like in the digital home. Read more here - CABA Launches Research into Digital Home of the Future.

The Ericsson survey was done across four countries UK, Sweden, Brazil and Italy.  The result showed “there is a clear interest in connecting mobile devices to the TV screen, for having PC-based functionality on TV-centric devices, and significantly raised interest in creating internet connectivity across all devices”.

The finding came as no surprise to me nor should it be a surprise to you.  Many of us have grown up watching the Jetsons and have tried in our own way to have our appliances connected; waiting for the appropriate technology to make the connected home a reality.

So now that the connected home has become a major topic is achieving the holy grail an insurmountable mountain or a molehill that can be easily achieve?   Before you decide which one it is let us look at the concept of the “CONNECTED HOME”.  I have looked at different definitions and I think this one by Ericsson best describe it.

“The New Home is place where consumers can watch what they want, when they want, and on any device they want. It gives people control, ease-of-use, and a seamless experience across all three screens in the home - mobile, TV and computer. They can time-shift content, watch it on-demand, transfer it from their digital video recorder to their mobile device, and use the same controls whether watching at home, on a train, in a pub, or wherever they are. It makes TV and other digital content personal, but also part of a community or network – people can share programmes, and chat and message while watching. Today, many technologies are available to achieve parts of this vision. Ericsson is helping bring them together to make the real ‘New Home’ experience possible.” 

The above definition stops short of mentioning security, which I will look at later.

Unlike other area of our lives; the idea of the connected home where we live our life in a convergent way is not a new concept but we have had to wait until now before we can see it in reality.  But we are not there just yet there are a few areas that need to be looked at and challenges that need a more holistic approach.

Installation and Connectivity: I think the first of the challenges we face is interconnectivity between the diverse appliances we have in our homes. At the moment there are products on the market that are selling themselves as connected home compliant but only, work with a selected list of devices.  This is turn off for ordinary consumers because they do not want to spend extra to achieve the connected home by replacing perfectly working appliances.

All is not lost here.  Because this is where the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and Universal plug-and-play (UPnP) are playing a major role to get a common framework for manufactures and developers to follow.  So consumer will not need specialist knowledge to install and configure their home appliances.

User interfaces on multiple platforms:  Most of us are accustom to use different controls for the appliances in our homes. The television, the stereo and computer all require a different control.  As we implement a connected environment our television, PC and mobile devices will be consuming the same media.

User research should be conducted to explore users’ expectations of input devices.  For example, users are accustomed to controlling TVs with a remote control and PCs with a keyboard and mouse; however what users expect when TV content is shown through a PC is unclear.

Licensing, Ownership and Coping Right:  With a vast array of devices on the market to consume digital media; consumers want to be able to use these devices to consume the different content without the risk of breaking the law or their contractual agreement with the publisher.  Therefore, “adherence to Digital Rights Management (DRM) regulation should therefore be built into any products and services in such a way that it is simple and attractive for users to access the features they desire without breaking the regulations”.

“In addition to DRM issues, protection for personally created content may also be a concern for users.  Investigation of users’ requirement for protecting their photos, home videos and similar content should also be investigated with users”.

Security: The concept of the connected home open up a new area of security concern or expand on areas that already exist.  Consumers are worried about identity theft and therefore are going to great extent to protect their identity.

Implementing a connected home means that those with ill-intent will have more avenues in which to access your home content.  System developers and those within the connected home ecosystem as in business systems, development need to bear security in mind.

Going forward
The challenges outline above are just a few that stands out and no doubt you can come up with many more.

I think a lot of the work has already been done – for one, we have the technology.  I think more need to done to standardise the technology among manufactures and developers. Also it needs to be cost effective so that it is more attractive.

The connected home like many other technology sector has the problem where early adopter need more from the technology but the business need more to come onboard to make it worthwhile to manufacture. In spite of the slow adaptation by the masses, many companies are positioning themselves to take advantage when the market develops.  Also there are others that are driving the market with innovative solutions – enough to keep you excited about the possibility of the technology.

The connected home is here and is a reality to a certain extent for some, but to make it a reality for the masses there is an overwhelming need for “simplicity” in, usability, connectivity, security and installation.