Maybe I’m a skeptic. I don’t think I am but, maybe. Having lived in technology for nearly 30 years, it’s not often a new tech product debuts that I get excited about. The iPhone was a giant WOW. Wireless networking was an “its about time” kind of moment as I was one of those power-travelers that used to use a phone “coupler” (if you don’t know what that is, you’re probably younger than a Millennial). And self-driving cars excite me like no other tech product since the first time I saw the so-called World Wide Web in 1994. I can’t wait.
I love new technology and I love all the cool things our industry is doing. HD was a huge, huge deal for us — like, even bigger than VGA on the original IBM PS/2 computer! But, 4K blows HD away. These days, I rarely go watch a movie in a theater that doesn’t have a 4K projector — I go out of my way to drive by two non-4K theaters to go to my local 4K-DCI one as often as possible. I have always thought it was cool that I get to see all the new tech before everyone else sees it — stuff my friends think is cool now (like digital signage and facial recognition), I saw at an InfoComm show or at a Digital Signage Expo a half-dozen years ago or more.
I find myself pondering the future of AV a lot. And, as you likely know, not only have I written about it many times in the past, but I’ve also been invited to speak at countless tech trade shows and special events about the Future of AV technology how how it may or may not affect us all. There seems to always be a technological evolution (e.g., HD to 4K) or sometimes a revolution (e.g., AV-over-IP) that makes for a perfect keynote subject for the attendees. In most cases, it’s easy to see how a new product or technological advancement will change things.
But it dawned on me today that the future of our very own AV market may not be in the hands of any new product, new technology or even an AV company at all. In fact, there’s likely one AV guy (or girl) out there, today, that controls the future of AV for all of us, but doesn’t even know it, yet.
I’m talking about Jeff Bezos’ personal AV technician. Yes, that Jeff Bezos — the one who started Amazon.
Follow my logic.
The Amazon Alexa is AMAZING. Probably the most amazing thing since Apple’s iPhone. And, maybe even more so. The iPhone was revolutionary as it was a handheld phone, an email client, notes taker, voice recorder, calendar, to-do list, wrist watch and flashlight — all in one. It replaced like 10 things I was using every single day. And I didn’t even mention the camera!
About a year ago, I reluctantly bought an Amazon Dot. I had been holding out for the Apple version as I was convinced it would be better. In hindsight, I’m glad I went ahead and purchased the Alexa-enabled Dot as, now that the Apple version, called HomePod, is out I can safely say that it sucks when compared to the Dot. Sure, it sounds better, but that’s not what I primarily use it for so I don’t care. Alexa’s voice-recognition software runs circles around the 2012-era Siri. Someone buying the HomePod for Alexa-like functionality must be experiencing what it was like to use the iPhone’s built-in Maps function instead of Google Maps back in 2010.
Anyway, stick with me here.
Alexa seamlessly and simply connects to nearly everything you want to connect it to. And, it’s updated weekly — yes, weekly — with behind-the-scenes Friday-afternoon firmware and software upgrades. So, just when you think Alexa doesn’t do something you want it to do, she can — you just have to wait until an upcoming Friday — as someone will add that functionality. And, at any time, you can add Alexa SKILLS to yours and have third-party control of your Lutron lighting system, your shades and blinds, your HVAC, your TV, your DVR, your CableTV box, your SONOS, your home security system, your cameras and even your washer and dryer (yes, I have that functionality — even though I can’t find a use for it yet). It can even call people, play any radio station in the world, play movie previews, play Jeopardy!, play Sirius/XM radio — I mean, it can do nearly anything. It’s squarely aimed at the average consumer or home application — all to simplify your life.
\But it could EASILY be upgraded to control everything. I mean everything. Projectors, digital signage networks, AV-over-IP systems, scalers, switchers, audio systems, commercial-grade lighting systems, rooms, buildings, etc. — you get the idea. In fact, a number of integrators, including AVI Systems and Whitlock, have custom Alexa Skills that add connectivity and voice-control of meeting rooms to Alexa. But, for now, that’s not Amazon’s target market — not by a long-shot. In fact, all these higher-end, commercial-like capabilities for Alexa have been, so far, developed by third-party companies like integrators or the manufacturers of the gear itself. None are core functionalities of Alexa. Yet.
But what if was? What if Amazon decided to add commercial lighting control, room control, AV control and remote control of everything-AV to the Alexa — as an out-of-the-box function? A scary thought, huh?
Well, that’s not likely to happen — except for one tiny possibility. What if Jeff Bezos experienced what we all experience in his daily professional life?
What if every time he wanted to make a video call, he had to get to the room 15 minutes before the meeting even started to make sure the system worked? What if he pressed START on his conference room touch panel and nothing happened? What if he switched inputs on his monitor and it skipped the input he wanted all the time? And, what if he tried to connect his laptop to the AV system and it sometimes it didn’t work?
As long as his personal AV tech keeps making his rooms work before Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, gets there — so he never has to make anything AV work on his own, we are safe — our industry survives just as it always has. But, if he ever experiences what it’s like to really have an AV room that sometimes just doesn’t work right, he could very well yell down the hall, “Get the Alexa Team in here right now and let’s make all this shit work with a Dot!!”
At that moment, the future of AV may very well change forever.