Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Disruption: The Smartphone Peace Dividend

The Omnivore Would Like One Of These!
The Omnivore recently purchased two devices for his household:
The Almond Wifi Router / Range Extender

The Ray Super Remote
In both cases the reason was similar: The Omnivore had an older device (in the case of the Almond, a wi-fi extender, in the case of the Ray, a Bose universal remote) that had not kept up with modern requirements and was difficult to configure.

In both cases, the devices performed excellently, even solving some difficult problems such as providing iPhone apps (for the Almond) which confirm the signal strength and upload-download speed of the connection in rooms where the older laptops are having trouble connecting.

Both were quite easy to set up and configure. Both make use of what people have termed the Smartphone Peace Dividend.

The Smartphone Peace Dividend

A Peace Dividend is what you get when you move from a war-footing to a peace-footing and can now spend all that money on stuff to help grow your nation rather than just defend it. In the case of the Smartphone Peace Dividend, the idea is that the amount of money in the smartphone industry was so high that billions were poured into research and development as well as manufacturing and supply chain.

Now that smartphones are something of a commodity, the technology that was developed for them (tiny high resolution cameras, high performance, low cost touch screens, powerful, low energy-use microchips, excellent wifi connectivity, and so on) can be trained on other uses.

The first of these was drones wherein the technology necessary to make a good drone was very similar to the technology necessary to make a good smartphone (minus the rotors). Things like good cameras, video transmission, connectivity, and processing were all part of the drone-requirements slate. Those capabilities were perfected by smartphones and could be easily transferred.

For the home-devices this is a little different.

Thee Range Extender

The Almond can function as both a router and as a range extender. The older one The Omnivore had came with no user interface, no screen, etc. You had to connect it to your wi-fi without the benefit of any mechanism by which to enter passwords or whatever.

When The Omnivore changed wifi systems and had a different password, trying to reverse engineer how to do this was an incredible pain in the ass. It also didn't come with the iPhone app that has pretty conclusively proven that the 5 year old laptops don't have especially good wifi hardware.

Having a touch screen for set up, an app for diagnosis, and the ability to update automatically is a big deal. It goes from the device being something that The Omnivore could set up after a few minutes of either looking for very old documentation or googling--to being something anyone could use easily.

The Ray Super Remote

In the case of the Ray, the difference is even more striking. When The Omnivore got the Bose system every device he had basically ran through it and it did a good job of identifying and configuring itself. Today the original blu-ray player died--the new one wasn't as easy to control from the Bose remote (such as turning on captions). The Omnivore moved to a smart-TV making watching Netflix and Amazon Prime happen through the TV itself rather than through the Bose system.

The Bose didn't even identify the Xfinity cable box beyond basic recognition.

The Ray did all these things. Where it had difficulty with the Samsung Smart TV suite of apps, it just had The Omnivore point the remotes at each other and push the buttons. It learned them that way. Where the Bose doesn't even connect to wifi, the Ray did so first thing.

Universal remotes are plagued by the problem that using a modern entertainment set up is highly modal: you probably have to control different devices in similar but different ways (for example, Netflix has all the VHS controls--but is on a different device and some of them can have different implications such as Exit).

The app-driven nature of the Ray makes this much more implicit and transparent to the user.


The rise of touch-screen driven smart technology has been predicted for some time. The most common vision is that of a refrigerator that provides shopping intelligence and can display family functions or weather, etc. on it.

These are already here (kinda) but The Omnivore is pretty sure that rather than watches or refrigerators, the really disruptive applications of this technology are still being developed. If you had asked The Omnivore to name a device lacking a user interface the range extender would probably not have come to mind--but it was definitely one of them. The emerging interactive "door bells" with video cameras and motion sensors and smart-phone connectivity are certainly another.

The ability to put a powerful, intelligent, and very user friendly user interface on anything is what is disruptive, not the new functions in and of themselves (generally). This is where we should be looking for the next wave of changes.

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