Digital home wrecker
September 09, 2005
This week's edition of the Economist has an interesting article that throws cold water on the tech industry's dreams of "the digital home." Struggling with a slowdown in IT spending by companies, many tech firms, from Microsoft to Comcast to Hewlett-Packard to Cisco, are looking to homeowners to take up the slack. They've convinced themselves, despite an almost complete lack of evidence, that people want to live in "Internet-enabled" abodes in which everything from televisions to garage-door openers is connected through a rich broadband network. As the article points out, there are many problems with this vision, not least of which is the fact that tech companies continue to promote proprietary data formats and rights-management protocols. Companies like Microsoft and Apple and Sony don't really want to make it easy for consumer gadgets to talk with each other; they want to control the entire system, to be the toll-taker at the front door. The resulting lack of interoperability means that "real-world digital homes usually do not work very well" - and won't for the foreseeable future.
But the biggest barrier to the digital home isn't a matter of technology; it's a matter of demand. Consumers certainly want to share Internet connections with other family members, and some of them may want to share a printer over a home network, but beyond that they show little interest in connectivity.The misreading of the market, the article suggests, may stem from the fact that many tech companies have long catered to a corporate clientele, and they assume, mistakenly, that consumers act like companies in buying technology: "During the information-technology boom, the industry sold its wares mostly to chief information officers or chief technology officers with big budgets. These are customers who tend to be receptive toward buying 'solutions' rather than products, and often hire consultants such as IBM Global Services to pull together hardware and software from various vendors. But 'consumers don't buy as an IT manager does,' says [Pure Networks CEO Tim] Dowling. 'They buy spur-of-the-moment and hodge podge; they buy things, not systems.' To the extent that the digital home is not a thing but a solution, he thinks, 'the vendors are all fooling themselves.'"
Sounds convincing to me. When was the last time you went out to Best Buy to purchase a "solution"?
The problem with tech companies is that they market "specs." They are used to promoting gigahertz and megapixels and a "unique" aspect (they're take on "innovation") of their technology. It only impresses geeks. Most people don't care, much less understand.
On top of it all, none of it works right. I know many people that are so fed up with their PCs because they "don't work right." People are frustrated. And technology companies will think they've addressed it, but it will be something like: It's simple. All you have to do is...
I call it the "and then" syndrome. Because they're's always an "and then." Usually, many, many "and thens."
Posted by: ordaj at September 9, 2005 10:32 PM
Of course, in the above post, I meant their, not they're. Man, I hate not being able to edit posts.
Posted by: ordaj at September 10, 2005 10:18 PM
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