Vendors must take responsibility for the home network and provide complete end-to-end solutions for consumers. Those that do so, like Apple, can emerge victorious in the battle for the digital home.
Not too long ago, consumers only had to deal with a single screen in the home — the television set. Over time, some added a second or third television, as well as an entirely new category of screen in the form of the personal computer. Now, TVs and PCs are common in most homes. And so is the dramatic increase in complexity they bring to consumer infrastructure.
The growth of multiple screens and devices in the home now presents a challenge for all vendors. Screens within the home have gone from disconnected to connected, both to the Internet and to each other. As more households become networked, the increase in importance of the home network will begin to rival the overall importance of any single device connected to it. And while home networking products are now in demand, they have not been optimized for the ease of use required in a home.
Most networking gear is simply re-packaged technology, designed to be used in business settings where it can be deployed and managed by network professionals with strong Information Technology (IT) backgrounds. As consumer interest in sophisticated usage models grow over time, current technology will become an increasing source of frustration. Terms such as NAT translation, DHCP, and Port Forwarding are impenetrable to most consumers, but an in-depth understanding of them is still far too critical in obtaining a workable system. The result: high consumer dissatisfaction and a looming crisis in the digital home.
Retail vendors will undoubtedly use consumer confusion over complexity and dissatisfaction with the experience to promote service offerings. While not the optimal solution, it will be a way for the vendors to differentiate themselves when it comes to ease of use, deployment, and management, and to claim leadership in digital home space.
That's because the digital home is built on the home network and all the different screens connected to it and, through it, to each other. And making that network easy to use, with optimized tools for deployment and management will have to become a priority.
What's more, vendors who embrace and facilitate bringing media onto the home network — who get content to flow into the digital home — will be the most successful in capturing the various screens that become its endpoints.
At the moment, the company that embraces these philosophies is Apple, and it's one more non-obvious reason why the overall Apple ecosystem is a success.