By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
TWICE: Look ahead 10 years from now. Describe the products that will be installed, the companies that will sell and install them, and the role of the future installer.
Gartland: We will see more retailers enter into the installed entertainment arena as their ability to grow revenue every year gets tougher.
Convergence products will be more plentiful but different from the way they were sold early on. Manufacturers will increasingly utilize rugged software backbones like Linux and other IT-based platforms, but the product concept, application and user interfaces will be completely CE-based.
Norder: In 10 years I believe that installers will become more consultative and more focused on the assembly of a user experience rather than the assembly of technology. Control and automation systems will also be more pervasive because technology overall will become more complex to the average homeowner. A control system that integrates multiple technologies into an easy-to-use interface will be needed by many people just to be able to operate their disparate systems – from audio and video to lighting and security.
Klein: Eventually, I'm sure that any appliance, medium or technology will be fully integrated and centrally controlled. Already, today, we're automating storm shutters, tiki torches around the pool, and feeding devices in aquariums. The installer who remains flexible, who is well trained and educated in the latest technologies, and who chooses strong partners will continue to be relevant and successful in the future.
Kussard: It is not too difficult to imagine a much larger customer base. This will result from the introduction and maturation of no-new-wires technologies that will make it far less intrusive to implement systems in existing homes. However I don't believe that this foretells the demise of the installing contractor.
Regardless of how sophisticated wireless, powerline carrier and other such technologies become, it will likely be a long time before they can outperform hardwired dedicated backbones in terms of reliability and QoS. Additionally, the growing reliance of consumers on service providers and VARs for implementation and maintenance of technologies that are considered by many to be "plug and play" bodes well for the installer.
Starkey: Two distinct camps are forming: a labor-install camp for more sophisticated and more integrated systems, and an almost do-it-yourself low-labor set of systems geared more for the masses.
The first camp will continue to be dominated by the professional install companies whose forte is design, programming and integration. This is for high-function, high-feature systems. System cost will come down but generally will be offset by more functionality.
The newer emerging group will provide plug-and-play, lower function but very useable audio and video systems. Some of these will add wireless control and two-way feedback from mobile music devices and tap into the digital radio choices with feedback. These systems will drive very-low-cost easy-to-install solutions and will favor retail and home set-up services like cable installers.
TWICE: What new technologies will have the biggest impact on installers' long-term business, and why?
Gartland: IP-based entertainment products have a tremendous opportunity. Ethernet and TCP/IP are rugged and based on a world-wide infrastructure. As more entertainment products leverage this cheap and reliable network, products will begin speaking the same language, and installations will become more standardized.
Norder: The AV business is changing with the advent of wireless technologies, IP-based control and AV distribution, and remote access to a home's functions via the Internet. The most successful installers recognize these changes, and they are embracing them rather than ignoring them.
Klein: There is no single technology that holds the key to success. The key is to have choices so you can provide the right solution for your customer. Each home is different, and every client is unique. The technology designed into a system depends on the project, the physical structure of the home, the environment and the needs and expectations of the client. Often a combination of technologies is needed. An installation in a 1930s apartment in New York City will be engineered very differently than a new home in Galveston, Texas.
Kussard: Although wireless is the topic du jour, systems will likely be configured using multiple no-new-wires technologies. The installer's tool kit will require this to meet the realities of interference in the field. IP will of course have a major impact on all forms of home systems. This will be the result of the opportunities fostered by low-cost standards-based technologies and the consumer's almost ubiquitous access to networks and their "stuff" on them. The big challenge will be how secure will our "stuff" be when it resides on a worldwide network. And even if it is truly secure, how secure will we feel? So the big issue and opportunities will lie in securing privacy on a very public network.
Starkey: Reliability will win this war. The most reliable technologies that provide ease of set-up and use will dominate.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.