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Connected Homes April 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Device Charging

Why is this topic significant?

Mobile devices have become a primary means through which people interact with networked entertainment electronics, home-automation peripherals, and other devices within the connected home. Many companies have been developing innovative solutions for charging mobile devices within the home, but few new solutions offer any major benefits over conventional chargers.

Description

Home-networking technologies have evolved substantially over the years to provide better and more-reliable connections between mobile devices and remote services, and improved interactions between mobile devices and other nodes within home networks. But to serve useful functions within home networks, mobile devices need more than good network connectivity; they also require electrical power. Various companies have attempted to make recharging mobile devices more convenient. Many smartphones and tablets now ship with built-in support for wireless-charging systems that follow the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi standard, and a wide range of cases, replacement batteries, and other accessories let users add Qi compatibility to devices that do not have built-in support for the standard. Similar accessories exist for a rival standard: Powermat, from the Power Matters Alliance. To charge up an appropriately equipped mobile device, a user needs merely to place the device in contact with a compatible charging pad. Many companies sell charging pads compatible with either the Qi or the Powermat standard. Thus, it is relatively easy for any user to add wireless-charging capability to any mobile device.

Implications

Wireless-charging solutions are becoming better and less expensive as time passes, but only a handful of devices (all of which support the Qi standard) have garnered large numbers of positive reviews from users on Amazon.com and other prominent sites. Discount furniture maker Ikea recently announced it will sell Qi chargers that users can retrofit into furniture, as well as special furniture pieces that have Qi chargers built in. But because current wireless-charging technology requires physical contact between a charger and a device, users cannot actively use their devices while charging them. This limitation is important, because mobile-device batteries frequently need charging when users are most likely to want to interact with the devices (such as at the end of a long workday). And entertainment applications can drain mobile-device batteries very quickly. In both of those common situations, conventional wired chargers work better than wireless ones.

Impacts/Disruptions

Various companies are working on means to charge electronic devices wirelessly without requiring the device to be in contact with (or in very close proximity to) a charging pad. But progress in advanced radio-frequency wireless power transmission (a leading candidate for long-range wireless power for consumer use) has been slow. In the meantime, conventional wired solutions are likely to retain their convenience advantage over existing wireless-charging solutions. With increasing numbers of conventional power strips, surge protectors, and even electrical outlet covers integrating USB ports for plugging in mobile-device charging cables, wired solutions are bound to become even more ubiquitous—and convenient.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Home-automation, home security, broadband connectivity, mobile devices, mobile integration, networked entertainment electronics, wireless charging, mobile-device charging

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

HBO Now

Why is this topic significant?

HBO, an influential US premium pay-TV network, is offering a new digital-video streaming service, HBO Now, that is available without a pay-TV subscription. The offering has long-term implications for the future of pay-TV and networked home entertainment.

Description

As of its scheduled launch on 12 April 2015, HBO Now is available through a browser-based interface on PCs, as well as through Apple iOS and Apple TV devices pursuant to a three-month exclusivity deal with Apple. Following the expiration of the exclusivity period, HBO Now will presumably appear on other mobile-device and video-streaming platforms, including smartphones, tablets, and other devices running Google's Android operating system, as well as smart TVs, game consoles, and the like. At $14.99 per month, an HBO Now subscription costs significantly more than a subscription to Netflix, the leading US video-streaming service, and HBO Now lacks the vast content library that Netflix offers. HBO Now's pricing is comparable to that of an HBO pay-TV subscription, however, and HBO's exclusive original programming is in exceptionally high demand among broadband-equipped US households.

Implications

Investors have put significant pressure on HBO to offer a stand-alone subscription service, citing a large potential market. Analytics firm Nielsen reports that of the 116.4 million US households with televisions, roughly 35 million receive HBO programming, and more than 97 million receive at least some pay-TV channels. HBO Now gives the network the opportunity to reach the millions of US households that do not have pay-TV service, as well as the tens of millions subscribing to pay-TV service tiers that do not include HBO.

Impacts/Disruptions

HBO once resisted offering a stand-alone streaming service, ostensibly because offering such a service would diminish the network's negotiating leverage in future dealings with pay-TV providers. Those concerns may be less important to HBO—the fees for which typically appear as separate line items in pay-TV subscribers' bills—than they would be to a network that sells programming to pay-TV services directly. Several such networks, including ESPN, have begun offering stand-alone live-TV streaming as part of Dish Network's Sling TV service, but unlike HBO, such networks are not yet available à la carte.

Whether and to what extent HBO Now will succeed is uncertain. Part of the value of an HBO Now subscription is being able to see new episodes of shows such as Game of Thrones as soon as they air, but many people who subscribe to digital-streaming services don't necessarily place a value on first-run content, preferring instead to let content accumulate and then binge-watch many episodes in a sitting. High demand does apparently exist for first-run streaming broadcasts of sporting events and other live events, as evidenced by the very high sign-up rate for Sling TV service during a recent US college basketball tournament. HBO does have some live sporting events, but its biggest draws are scripted series and movies.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Home entertainment, pay-TV, home networking, broadband, fiber networks

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: