The concept of a digital home varies as much as the products being marketed to digital technology consumers. Invariably, convergence is a cornerstone of any strategy. However, true convergence is hampered by the current, albeit successful, business models of the major providers of technologies for this market.
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Four major providers compete for the estimated trillion dollar a year worldwide digital home market. Consumer electronics rely on feature improvement to sell replacement components to their clients. Computer products require increased performance to support new capabilities and make older platforms obsolete. Home integration services rely on convergence complexity to justify their fees. Each of these business models could potentially be cannibalized by a true integrated digital home solution. The Content and Communication Services providers use a mixture of service charges and advertising revenues in their business models. These fees and the level of intrusion of varied advertising models will be an area that the consumer will want control over.
All these providers supply user interfaces developed to support their product and business models. In the most basic form they simply expose the features of their product. In more elaborate solutions elegant interfaces are developed to attach consumers to their products and potentially lock those clients into their brand. These solutions do little to address the consumer’s overall technology experience and in fact may leave the consumer with numerous elegant yet unassociated and confusing usage experiences.
The average home has multiple remotes for their TVs and STBs, a sound system with face plate buttons or a remote, multiple computers with point and click controllers, wall mount control panels for heating and irrigation. In addition they have portable music players, PDAs and phones. The visual and ergonomic experiences of all these devices are quite unique. It is likely that more than half of these controllers have changed over the last 5 years in each household. Fully integrating these systems today would require custom services and equipment costing well in excess of $25,000 and will result in a system that is very hard to upgrade.
Current consumers are caught up in the excitement of HD video, surround sound, DVR TV time shifting, gaming and an explosion of mobile services. However, consumer frustration at the diverse learning curves required to manage these technologies, and a general concern that they are not getting full use of their existing technology investment is likely to impede the full penetration of digital service into a home.
A new business model must be developed to directly address the technology experience from a user perspective. In addition, this model will need to demonstrate real value to the key existing digital product and business models. This model is the Digital Technology Agent (DTA) model.
A DTA is a layer of software that can be readily installed on existing computing devices and, with the addition of some network based components, can be added to existing CE devices. Supported by a digital home data model the agent can then provide true convergent services to the digital home.
A DTA provides a single familiar user interface with simple ergonomics, distributed across the user’s whole digital experience. At home or in a mobile environment the user can immediately select all their digital resources from video to phones to home control. Feature selection and control are source transparent. Each individual user can establish a personal menu that organizes their experience by favorites and last accessed features. Biometric identification will augment the security and prioritization process.
The DTA does not replace existing digital capabilities but rather presents them to the consumer in a consistent manner and categorize them for advanced management processes. The DTA interface allows the user to access the core capabilities of the managed features in a familiar and consistent fashion. The expert user can choose to passthrough to the feature in their native mode if advanced features are required. The goal is to manage 90%+ of the average user’s daily technology touches via the DTA interface.
The DTA must provide access to existing and future capabilities. A wide breadth of the user home features must be managed and normalized into the DTA’s common interface. Allowing the consumer to get maximum use of their current digital capability is crucial in establishing their confidence that the DTA will incorporate new digital features as they come to market. With this confidence comes a dependency on the DTA to manage the acquisition of new integrated features. An imbedded sales portal will provide a familiar process to select, purchase and install new features. The DTA becomes a new focused sales tool.
The DTA’s adaptability is enabled by a Digital Home Data Model. This model allows for the normalization of the diverse content and applications that the DTA manages. It also provides a architecture for developing advanced services. Consumer services will allow for better selection, restriction and organization of digital resources. Partner services will allow for reduced support and installation costs.
In essence, the DTA creates a Single Learning Curve for the consumer to use and manage their existing technology, and to intuitively acquire and install new features.
The DTA will leverage plug and play standards in the processing, network, home automation and audio/video technology fields. However, experience in other digital convergence markets has shown that multiple standards tend to surface and backward compatibility is always an issue. To deliver the highest degree future proofing for our customers the DTA will maintain a core library of pre-integrated products. This library will be constructed from partner relationship, selected key products and standards, and the users themselves. The DTA will also provide tools that will allow template driven integration of new features by both vendors and users.
The DTA will be packaged as licensable OEM software that will be sold through consumer product and service providers looking to distinguish their products, supply a more complete solution, and establish a closer relationship with their customers. The DTA is designed to be private labeled by these partners while retaining the core interface intuitiveness. Each partner will tailor the appearance of the DTA for their market and integrate their core digital products into the initial offering. The integrated sales portal will remain open to the breadth of integrated DTA products while giving priority product positioning to the partner’s products and services.
In conclusion, a Digital Technology Agent product and business model will address the major consumer technology complaint of the lack of a simple and universal control process for their technology. At first glance a business model that allows the consumer to get extended use of their technology might seem to impede digital home technology sales. However, as the consumer gets increased confidence in their ability to get full value from their technology purchases, they will make more purchases and reward companies that provide this DTA capability.
HomeXperience produces Digital Technology Agent software and services designed for existing computers, media servers, residential gateways, mobile devices and media extenders. The product has been deployed on dedicated servers and as stand alone software. Data models and hardware reference models exist for deployment of the solution in conjunction with network, USB and STB platforms as well. For more information contact email@example.com or visit www.homexperience.com.
Chris Simon is the founder of HomeXperience Inc.. Mr. Simon has over 20 years experience in digital convergence and integration software for both the telecommunication and digital home markets. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-712-7871.