As the revolution with digital gadgets and media takes shape, many trends are discernible:
Integration: Devices which were once separate are coming together. For example, take cellphones and PDAs. Handspring’s latest device Treo combines both. Moxi Digital aims to combine various functionalities like MP3 and DVD player, cable modem, satellite receiver and personal video recorder into a single device.
Specialisation: This is the counter-trend to Integrated devices, with the belief being that consumers will want specialised, feature-rich devices for specific purposes. Take the gaming consoles, for example. Nintendo and Sony are focused on packing power into its consoles, while Microsoft aims to add much more value by its decision to equip the Xbox with a hard disk. There is likely to be a mix of both integrated and specialised devices, much like the software industry. However, the lessons of what Microsoft Office did to its competitors is worth remembering. It’s the “suite vs best-of-breed” battle all over again.
Connections:These devices are getting inter-connected. These connections are happening in two ways: peer-to-peer (P2P), and through a computer (hub-and-spoke, or client-server). Napster was an example of a P2P service which used resources at the edge (music files on hard disks on everyone’s computers). Apple’s iMac is an example of the “digital hub” strategy at work, where ease of connection and software creates a platform for sharing and managing digital data from multiple devices.
Messaging as Emperor, Content as King: Messaging in all its forms – email, IM, SMS – remains a key driver for many devices. People just love to communicate! The next generation of cellphones will have small, in-built cameras to send photos across to the other person. Multimedia Messaging is already being touted as one of the key reasons to drive a cycle of cellphone upgrades. Digital Content follows closely behind: we want our music and our movies! Witness the numbers buying up DVDs, creating another stream of profits for the content owners.
Media Servers: Will the computer serve as the hub around which all the other devices will be organised?
Or, is this the start of the post-PC era? Amy Wohl thinks there is a new category emerging: Entertainment Centres or Home Media Servers. Writes Wohl on the functionalities:
Deliver, store, and manage TV programs, movies, and music from cable, satellite, the Internet, or CD sources to the media center’s hard drive.
Provide electronic mail and messaging. Support web browsing, on-line shopping, and on-line games.
Provide its services to any appropriate (digital?) device in your home from TV’s and stereos to portable devices (tablet PC’s), personal computers, and other household-of-the-future devices (say, the bulletin board on your refrigerator where you do the web-based grocery shopping).
Emerging out of all this is the Home Theatre. Writes Katie Hafner in the New York Times (January 24, 2002):
A home theater is defined as a setup with at least a 27-inch television, an audio-video receiver that includes surround-sound processing, a videocassette recorder or DVD player and four or more speakers, all placed strategically around the room.
According to estimates by Odyssey, a market research firm in San Francisco, some 25 percent of American households now have a home theater, and 37 percent of households have a television with a screen 30 inches or larger.
Also emerging: companies with innovative business models. More on this tomorrow.