Aren't WiFi routers too dumb for today's digital ecosystem? Smart this and smart that but the router that is at the center of this smart universe is just DUMB!
To begin with, they are disregarded as frivolous appliances connecting everything to the Internet. And we only look at them when our internet connections are upgraded or a new WiFi standard such as N, AC, etc. is announced. We often forget that they also connect everything together and can really spruce up the ecosystem.
On the other hand, even though these devices are always on and available, we hardly exploit them for anything beyond connecting to the internet. Yes, there have been many attempts at making these dumb routers a little smart but no one has really looked into making them really smart and extensible with installable apps and services.
Imagine an app-store for your router with installable apps and services such as parental filters, personal cloud storage, media servers, torrent clients, intrusion detectors, data aggregators, smart appliance controllers, etc.
This will mark the beginning of a really smart home ecosystem. And all this can be accomplished with just a simple single board computer such as Raspberry Pi with WiFi, Ethernet and an attached hard drive (optional) on the hardware end and OpenWRT with Node.js based application stack on the software end.
The last time I tried explaining my aunt on how to connect to a WiFi network, she fumbled, got confused and ultimately gave up on it. Such a simple thing, I felt, but many still feel illiterate in this context. Moreover, every device has a slightly different interface for connecting to WiFi. Are we doing something wrong? Are we designing stuff for a particular demographic and ignoring the perils of the rest?
Connecting to WiFi is almost synonymous to connecting to Internet and it should be simple. Dead simple! Is there a simpler solution to this problem? Yes, behold NFC! (Near Field Communication)
What if all WiFi routers and devices came with NFC! Every WiFi Router shall come with a Fob / Tag that the router can configure when touched and subsequently when we touch the same Fob to a WiFi enabled device, it can read the SSID and passkey from the Fob and connect to the said network.
This setup has three advantages. Firstly, its dead simple for everyone to connect their devices to WiFi. (Think grandmother!) Secondly, since the passkeys are auto-generated, they are inherently random and secure, eliminating a host of vulnerabilities arising from easy to guess passkeys. And finally, we can now easily connect devices without displays and keypads (think refrigerators, ovens, lamps, ACs, etc.) to Wifi, with the touch of a Fob. How cool is that!
Why is television so addictive and why didn't the likes of YouTube replace our good old cable service? When I see my family and friends prefer regular cable over on-demand access, I keep questioning myself - what's driving this behavior inspite of infinite choice on the Internet?
The answer is simple, SIMPLICITY! Unlimited choice causes anxiety and requires effort to find what we want! On the other hand many don't mind settling for something entertaining when accessing it is brain dead simple.
We may need to bring in some concepts - channels and programming - that cable tv pioneered to internet video and build a simple and intuitive navigator (remote) to displace the cable from our living room.
Now you may be tempted to say - Youtube, etc. already have channels! Yes, they all have channels, but they don't yet have the kind of programming everybody has come to expect and there is no simple way to access them on your TV!
We should design a dongle (think ChromeCast) for our TV and a simple controller/remote to navigate through channels and programs on it. Then we should be able to leverage a third-party ecosystem to come up with programming/channels for it.
In the end, its not about flexibility and choice but about simplicity and effortlessness. Imagine the drunk on the couch, the remote in his hand and the TV before him! He is the least common denominator we should aim for!
The next big frontier for personal computing is bringing the smart experience to TV and living room. I know this idea is not new and has become a cliche in a lot of circles due to some high profile debacles such as Google TV, etc. But it still stays unconquered and open to experimentation.
Look at how you navigate and access the content from your cable tv box! Its reminiscent of the old Atari console style interface in the age of iPhones and Androids. There are over 100 channels offering content and the max you can do is channel, category and favorites based navigation. A cloud powered recommendation engine is long overdue here at the minimum.
Even if we want to leave the traditional model as is and break new grounds with VOD and apps, the interface and control is still an unsolved puzzle. And boy the market is brewing interesting products to cash in on this opportunity.
Android on TV is awesome! Way better than everything else I tried so far - Windows, Linux, and what not. Android is much easier to navigate on big displays that are viewed from a distance than the rest. Its a coincidence that something designed for smartphones and tablets caters equally well for our TVs too.
But there is a problem, a very sore one indeed. 'Point & Click' just doesn't cut it and all those fancy handheld keyboards and remotes are 'Fancy' at best. They need getting used to and even then they are a pain to to use. Interfaces designed around these silly remotes and handhelds suck big time and this limitation is preventing Smart TV from going mainstream.
I sometimes wonder how easy it would be if I could just touch my TV to control it. It would be silly to run to the TV every time we want to do something but what if we can hold a full touch remote (customized tablet) in our hand that mirrors our TV display onto it and we can just touch and interact with it to interact with our TV!!!
Isn't 'Miracast' (WiFi display) achieving something similar albeit in the reverse fashion! Yes, but with one big problem. To use it we need to disconnect from WiFi and forgo internet connectivity! A deal breaker for most of us.
After posting this topic and its first post, it crossed my mind that, I and Intel's Mooly Eden may be looking at the wrong side of the plate. What I intend to say is that, the next big thing may not be software based at all. It may be innovative hardware. I was convinced this is the case after I watched excerpts of Samsung's presentation at CES 2013. I think the next big thing would be flexible displays and the infinite possibilities they would open.
Imagine a 7 inch tablet that folds in half making it a handy smartphone or a smartphone that folds or wraps around your wrist as a watch.
Watch the video and trust me you will be amazed.
Intel's Mooly Eden: 'Voice will do to touch what touch did to keyboards'. A recent article on Engadget highlighted this visionary who thinks touch based user interface is not intuitive, at least less intuitive than voice based interface.
Apple brought smartphones to the consumer landscape like no one did in 2007; are we gearing up for another quantum change in the scene of consumer technology? Touch based user interface completely phased out physical keypads/keyboards. Would voice be the next big thing and wash out touch interfaces?
Talking to computers to seek information and get tasks done has always been at the heart of scores of science fiction movies till date. It makes sense that voice will be a very comfortable way to interact with the tens of devices that we use in our everyday lives. It is a natural interface. We talk to people, but do not usually 'touch' them to interact, no pun intended.
What do you think? Will voice be the next big thing?