Long term digital lifestyle vision

26 02 2010

I love it when a plan comes together… or at least, I like to watch someone put a long term plan together and execute it – especially when I am along for the ride. 

I’ve been told that I’m too impatient when it comes to proposing and executing strategic organizational and product movement.  Perhaps that’s true.  Sometimes the wait is internal inertia, sometimes it is for technology to catch up with the science fiction, and sometimes it’s waiting for the market to emerge.

Seeing the market before it emerges is what differentiates revolutionary plans from incremental plans.  While revolutionary plans come together on the backs of incremental gains, those gains are shaped and directed by a vision.

Your digital lifestyle

OK, this is going to sound like an advertisement, but I’m looking at it from a strategic roadmap and product management perspective.  Also, I already have a lot of this stuff lying around, so I’d like to see it work!  Now, onward…

Whether you knew it or not, the first thing to make progress toward the “paperless” (or perhaps “virtual”) anything was your house.  The office has too much inertia and weighty processes holding it back to really embrace the digital vision wholeheartedly.  It will move that direction, but nowhere near as quickly as your own household. 

That’s largely because you choose your own digital destiny.  New sexy products become available rapidly and the adoption curve for certain new technology items is based both on peer pressure and the desire for shiny objects.  Because of this, your house is very likely more advanced than your office.

Your house may also suffer from reliability issues as well since almost everyone becomes their own IT department.  Not that your office’s IT department is running smoothly, but they usually can’t be accused of racing to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.

Who controls the horizontal and the vertical?

So your living room now has enough horsepower to become a branch of a super computer.  Your expectations have been on the rise about integrating all your electronics so you can do more with your digital assets (because, honestly it’s a pain to copy stuff all over the place).  We now ponder whether that new TV we like hooks up to your computer AND the cable box (and potentially the Internet now).  Your TV, BluRay player, and audio receiver have redundant functionality and sniff the Internetz for firmware updates while you sleep.

But, 5-7 years ago, the idea of putting a computer in your living room was only for geeks.  It didn’t seem to make much sense.  But, as more digital content became available on demand, we now want to share blocky, low quality YouTube clips on our HD screens (OK, YouTube offers HQ video now too).  Let’s face it, today, the average person is becoming geekier by the year.

So what?

When Microsoft first introduced Media Center 2004 for Windows XP, it was basically to allow geeks to create a 10’ Viewing Experience for their living room.  Your PC became the place to record TV, store pictures, and rip your music.  You could even surf the web in a window next to the TV program you were watching.

With it’s large universal remote, wireless keyboards and mice, Media Center prompted geeks to go to the eye doctor and spouses to suggest trial separation because “it’s too hard to figure out how to watch American Idol.”

Media Center used to be for specialty PC’s.  You couldn’t get it as an upgrade, and obtaining updates for it was not trivial.  It could record video, and the user experience was largely OK.  But, as usual, the likelihood of getting a Blue Screen of Death was directly proportional to your need to show off how cool your living room PC was.

Convergence

Bill Gates outlined a vision of a totally connected digital lifestyle when Media Center came online.  And if you look around today, it becomes more apparent that we’re inching closer to the day when your digital lifestyle will be integrated.  There are still pieces to have fall into place, but let’s look at the components we have today:

  1. Windows Media Center – now it’s available for everyone – even for PC’s that will never record TV or connect to a big screen.  Media Center reaches out to “Internet TV” content, Netflix and other services.  It’s lacking in many ways… like Hulu integration seems like a no-brainer, but there may be a vestige of protectionism there when it comes to IPTV or MSN vs. Hulu (see below).
  2. Xbox 360 – it’s in your living room and it’s connected to your Media Center as an Extender (plus it has access to content in its own right).  So, you can move that noisy, weird looking PC out of your living room and watch your content directly on your Xbox (with a cheap remote control).
  3. Zune – while not many people have one of these, the Zune Pass service compliments Media Center and the video marketplace is baked into the Xbox 360 today.  The new Zune HD is a very nice device and lets you sync pretty easily with all your assets.  That UI is the future of the mobility experience at Microsoft.
  4. Windows Home Server – I’ve talked about this many many times, but this is the “vault” for your digital assets.  It now integrates with your Media Center (and shifts the burden of storage away from a less secure, less stable PC), your Xbox, and your Zune.  It gives you remote access for your family to look at your content, and it saves your bacon when your other PC’s die a horrible death.
  5. Games for Windows – This is fairly now, but the idea is that you can play some games on your Xbox, PC, and Zune, and they all will integrate with your overall Gamer Score (important for Xbox devotees).  It looks like the Zune software and integrates tightly with your PC.
  6. Microsoft’s Media Room (previously IPTV) – many people don’t know about this (it’s the basis of AT&T U-verse), but in some areas, people have access to TV and internet-based content via a set top box available from Microsoft.  Many people seem to like it, though this isn’t hard to do when compared with Comcast’s set top box UI.  And now it integrates with the Xbox 360
  7. Microsoft Auto (Sync in Ford vehicles) – OK, “infotainment” is a stupid word – like “edutainment”, however Microsoft appears to have gotten Sync right for Ford.  The upshot is now the Zune syncs with Sync.  Yeah, I don’t know about the all those iPod models, but they do support a few devices
  8. And now… Windows Phone – no, not Windows Mobile 6.x.  Version 7 – Windows Phone 7 – that was recently demonstrated.  It resembles the Zune HD’s UI and features integration with Zune (and therefore other things in your digital lifestyle), and goes beyond the typical Exchange and lame Pocket Internet Explorer “integration” to deliver a more connected experience.  I’ve used every single released Windows Mobile 5 and 6.x phone ROM (both released and incremental builds), and I’ve got to say that Windows Phone 7 is a refreshing departure.  Like the Palm Pre – Microsoft allowed themselves to dump the legacy burden and get on with building what people actually want to buy.

The convergence isn’t complete

There are still a lot of shortcomings and potholes to patch.  Each one of these items has serious issues and the integration between them is far from complete.  Microsoft is also expecting the market to move eventually (and perhaps accidentally) into compatibility with this vision.  Windows 7 has been a big boost in making some of this plan come together.  It’s a nice OS to use, and under the covers you get better media sharing and (usually) integration into Media Center.  All this integration still takes effort on the part of the user – and that’s time you may not have available to sit and tinker with all these moving parts.

But then again, when you step back and see the progress that has been made on so many fronts, the bigger picture unfolds.  Your life is more than your MP3 player and laptop – it’s about matching your lifestyle.

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