More Is Less, Or Less Is More? - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
2/20/2009
10:29 AM
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More Is Less, Or Less Is More?

Verizon Wireless is promoting its new "virtual communications center," which promises to manage all of your day-to-day communications activities, from Internet search and e-mail, to good, old-fashioned telephony. We've seen this concept before, haven't we?

Verizon Wireless is promoting its new "virtual communications center," which promises to manage all of your day-to-day communications activities, from Internet search and e-mail, to good, old-fashioned telephony. We've seen this concept before, haven't we?Maybe the attempt came from a gizmo maker or service provider, but the desire to aggregate -- and then charge for -- all of a household's would-be digital inflow and outlow is quite common, for obvious reasons: consumers should want the ease and convenience of a "one-stop" way to get all that flowing accomplished; cornering such a market would be nothing short of winning the right to print money.

I'm just not convinced that it's possible.

The "Verizon Hub" looks sleek enough, kind of like the phones you sometimes encounter in pricier hotel rooms: a smallish touch-screen on a platform that cradles the prerequisite handset. The pricing doesn't seem overly exploitative, if you lump together all of the services it purports to replace. All in all, it's probably a fine idea, and three cheers to Verizon for trying to forge a new direction.

But consumers consistently waffle in their preferences for technology: for every innovation that tries to give them more functions with less effort, they regularly choose fewer options with more effort. People tend to buy a thing to do that thing. A phone to make calls. A DVR to record television shows. A toaster to make toast.

Could my PC also read my temperature, or brush my teeth for me? Perhaps. But I prefer to use it for the sole purpose it was built, which is word processing, of course.

Lots of people believe that there's a trade-off implicit in combining technical functions. Any iPhone lover (myself included) knows that this is true. And I wonder how many added features already are hidden, unused, in technologies in our homes. Think how many VCRs on rec rooms shelves still blink "12:00."

I know that owning the digital home is the Holy Grail for much of the technosphere. But getting consumers to actually want to live in it, let alone use it, is a really big, complicated challenge. And relying on some centralizing gizmo or service may not be enough to overcome it.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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