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Opinion Blair Parkin The race to ubiquity

As smart technology permeates daily life more and more, AV integrators are embracing it in installations. But what does the future hold – and could ubiquity actually limit capability?

commentator’s question in the early part of this century was to ask when we would reach a state of ubiquitous computing. Market research organisations were looking to a future where computers were embedded in rooms, furniture and even our clothing. This past few months has seen this status surpassed – though maybe not in the way it was originally discussed. The smartphones in our pockets, the tablets in our bags, the iPhone/Nike+ sensors in our jackets and running shoes have taken computing to volumes and a market penetration that in my view can be regarded as ubiquitous. Serious runners in last month’s Brighton marathon all seemed to have a piece of computing hanging off their Lycra-clad bodies. And the similarity of the devices, from their look and feel to the way one interacts with them, has such commonality – whether it is a Samsung mobile phone or an Apple iPad – that the very way that humans are interacting with computers is now reaching ubiquity. Or is it?

A People watching

While attending conferences and tradeshows around the world I have become a ‘people and their technology’ watcher – particularly in the pressroom or the internet lounge. Indeed I have observed year on year that the iPad has mostly dislodged laptops from such scenarios. But I seriously question if this is a static state of affairs. At an energy industry event in the Netherlands recently, I noticed a significant and growing number of users with the new class of ultra-portable laptops from the likes of Asus and Dell. These machines exploit a full PC processor, solid-state memory with a full keyboard, smallish but usable screen and a 10-hour battery life. For a touch typist they are an ideal way of producing documents. I tried producing this article on my iPad: typing, editing, saving different versions and then photo editing. I gave up and returned to my trusty Mac.

common technology

Serious runners are embracing technology to enhance their performance

Recently, as an experiment for an article I was researching, I downloaded Stephen Fry’s book The Fry Chronicles from Amazon’s Kindle site. I also purchased the hardback book from Amazon. The delivery process was initially the main differentiator in user experience between the media types. The Amazon WhisperNet had the e-book on my device in seconds. Home

‘Ubiquity in the AV sector should be about quality of user interface, not harnessing consumer products’

Hard copy, laptop, iPad... which is the best tool? 10 IE May 2012

Delivery Network’s Yodel van had to have several goes at trying to find our offices and successfully delivering the parcel containing the book. Then, chapter by chapter, I read each part on a different device – starting with my MacBook Pro, iPad, then onto the previous generation monochrome Kindle, then an iPhone 3, an iPhone 4 and then an HTC Android phone. It was heavy going and the book was taking ages to read. The Kindle and the iPad were without a doubt the best electronic devices. The final chapters were read from the book – the real, paper, hardback ‘old-fashioned’ book. This proved to me to be the right tool for the job. As I travel a huge amount, it is worth noting that Easyjet does not

demand you turn off a hardback book for take-off and landing.

So what does all this mean to the world of professional AV? Well, I believe, quite a lot. The race by control system companies to replace the meeting-room touchpanel interface with a branded smart device has begun. This appears to have huge advantages – the iPad in particular is a wonderfully intuitive device, its form factor is so good everyone else is copying it and the App Store provides a robust and reliable way of disseminating software and promoting the control brand. Indeed the iPad is way more intuitive than any control panel I have ever encountered from the likes of AMX, Crestron or Extron.

As an independent consultant representing the buyer, one of the most consistent failings by pro-AV system integrators is the inability to deliver the control system user training at the end of the project. However it has to be said no user ever goes on an iPad course, so maybe ubiquity is the way forward for all control interfaces? Caveat emptor. Before the

manufacturers of control technology, and for that matter audio, lighting and other systems, all move to the iPad as their chosen control interface, let us pause for a moment. This market and this technology are not static. Have we really reached ubiquity or is this just the start? Will Apple’s iPad and App Store still be number one in a few short years’ time? What about Microsoft and the Windows 8 tablet? What about the next version of Android? And how about the new gorilla in the room – Samsung?

Where a manufacturer designs its devices and makes its own products it can control the user experience and create differentiation. So if the control system companies continued to make their own touchpanels they can be sized for the application – for instance, lectern versus boardroom table. The device can be secured so it is not stolen and the manufacturer does not have a third-party digital publisher or App Store responsible for disseminating its content. Today there are four major operating system platforms to support to cover the whole market. Will that number shrink, grow or stay the same? Who will the players be and is it wise to hitch one’s own success to guessing which third party will gain in a rapidly changing market?

In other words I have a terrible fear that the desire for the USP – device envy, quality of user interface, design of device, or ‘ubiquity’ – could ultimately limit capability and provide manufacturers in the AV sector with an impossible overhead of multi-platform software development to support. Ubiquity in the AV sector should be about quality of user interface, not harnessing consumer products. Only when the consumer platform is ideal for the application should it be considered the right solution. The answer to me lies in the AV manufacturers upping their game on user interfaces, and the benchmark should be that, like with an iPad, a user would need no training. Until then I will still read books on planes and type articles on a QWERTY keyboard. But I will, of course, also carry my beloved iPad everywhere. IE

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