Users await the networked home
(IDG) -- As Catherine Walters walked through the "Home of the Future" exhibit in Las Vegas this morning at the Comdex trade show, she couldn't contain her enthusiasm, "ooohhhing" and "aaahhhhing" her way through the display. Every room has a TV, with radios, baby monitors, cameras, computers and futuristic aromatherapy devices scattered here and there.
Although not every gizmo and appliance in the Philips Electronics NV exhibit is connected, Walters is among the early adopters who want the networked refrigerators, washing machines and microwaves to move from prototypes to reality. Walters was one of those here Monday who looked at the home of the future -- and thought it could have gone farther.
She likes the idea of calling in to her home network to tell the oven to start preheating because she's on the way home. She awaits the day that the refrigerator will keep tabs on the inventory within and automatically dial up an online grocery service when the stock runs low.
"I'll never run out of Chardonnay again," Walters said.
For Walters and other Comdex visitors who took in the future home, the idea of having appliances -- major and minor -- connected to each other means they will be able to spend more time doing things that they enjoy, rather than mundane household tasks.
"I think it is absolutely wonderful because it gives people time to enjoy life," she said of the idea of a post-PC home network. "I love technology."
Good thing that Walters is director of technology for the County of San Bernardino (California) Human Services System department. Technology permeates her work and her home life. She, her husband and two children have four PCs, a laptop and two handheld computers, "and that's just at home," she said.
They created a home network with their computers in 1986, sharing peripherals and Internet access. When the printer port on her mainboard blew out, she decided she didn't want to spend the money to replace it so instead simply uses another of her home computers to handle printing jobs. Such are the joys of home networks, in Walters' view.
"I will never be without a network at home," she said. "We're a very geeky family."
Of course, Comdex is the Land of Geeks and so the Philips display was swarming with them.
"The networked home is so incredible," Michael Teichman enthused.
Teichman is in partnership development at Everdream, a Mountain View, California-based startup that offers remote software services, including diagnostics and help desk duties, to small businesses and home users. Teichman and his Everdream colleagues who are at Comdex this week are checking out the networking exhibits.
"We're not really sure that the bandwidth is there to do it well," Teichman said of advanced home networks, in which everything electronic connects to everything else.
While such issues are worked out among infrastructure providers, Teichman and others are ready to jump when the market takes off. Asked if he thinks the demand is there, Teichman suggested the groundswell will build.
"It has to happen," he said. "It's the next wave of technology."
That wave will bring with it the ability to check e-mail from, say, the bathroom first thing in the morning.
"You can watch ESPN while you're shaving," said Grant Watkins, who also handles partnership development at Everdream.
Of course, it would help if the razor of the future contained serious nick prevention for all those users who want to have an eye on TV and an eye on the mirror while they shave. As one user who walked through the display noted, it might become necessary in the future to "reboot your house."
But Teichman and Watkins can't imagine anyone who would reject the idea of the post-PC networked home.
"Who wouldn't want this stuff?" Teichman asked.
Tracy Castoe for one.
The third-grade teacher at Jacobson Elementary School in Las Vegas was at the show to check out technology for the classroom, but she had a gander at the Home of the Future as well.
"Why does your toaster need to talk to the Internet?" she wondered aloud. "I can see some things (being connected), but not my kitchen appliances."
On the other hand, Castoe has a TV in every room of her home, except the bathroom, and each TV has a VCR as well, so at least that much technology suits her just fine.
As for the future bathroom, the Philips version on display at Comdex has a small round chrome bathtub, a baby monitor and various gadgets and gizmos. But it's missing something.
"Where's the toilet?" one visitor asked.
"In the future, you won't have one," replied another.
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