What a year 2022 was! In the face of adversity and challenge, however, came opportunity. I’m pleased to see things are slowly (way too slowly) returning to what we once considered normal. It has been great to get back to travelling, meeting people face-to-face at tradeshows, watching the silicon chip shortage begin to improve, and experiencing the shipping rates reset to pre-pandemic levels. All in all, the general outlook is improving – albeit at a glacial pace – and this has got me to thinking about what 2023 has in store for our industry.
So here I am pondering and sharing with you today what I think is the most significant tech topic for 2023. It is not necessarily any specific technology, but instead device incompatibility and interoperability. Some of the reasons for this is that multinational corporations have for the last decade, been developing platforms on which to build their technologies. These platforms are hugely diverse and include physical hardware with operating systems, internet ‘live’ platforms, apps, and even gaming rendering engines, such as Unreal Engine, that have now crossed over into film, television, architecture, real-time rendering simulations, and a whole host of other applications. In addition to this, we are tacking on Artificial Intelligence platforms to drive reactivity, participation, and handle queries in real-time.
Why Are Platforms Important?
The clue is in the name, it’s the basis of something that you can build upon.
Take gaming as an example, to build any simulation-based game, a huge piece of the work is in creating the underlying physics and how the virtual environment is going to work. In relative terms it’s easy: repurpose by reskinning and adapting the gameplay. Naturally, working from an existing platform is more cost-effective, and delivers new game titles faster. The same logic holds true for anything else that is built on any underlying platform. Inevitably, platforms become a commodity that rival competitors in the marketplace start vying for. It is used to gain an increased market share and unification with their own platforms in a bid to extend market reach. This is, of course, until governments step in to guard against commercial monopolies. There’s a technological irony here, from a purely non-financial viewpoint, interoperability for users would benefit under a monopoly; so, effectively you have legislation working against functionality.
At face value, in the residential installation market, it appears that interoperability exists between various platforms, however, the reality is somewhat different. The only real chance for a utopia of interoperation will be if someone takes it upon themselves to create an open standard, creating common ground that the big players in the market want to get involved with. Involvement is influenced by opportunities for profit. Standards have been created before, but there’s almost always a financial motive behind them. In the meantime, we’re stuck with the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon acting like demigods who are simply too big to take over each other. Stuck in the middle of all this you have the humble user, which is pretty much everyone trying to navigate these interoperability issues. For example, Sonos natively supports Google assistant, so if you want Amazon Alexa to control Sonos, be prepared to jump through some hoops to get it configured and when you’re done, accept you’ll only get the most basic controls.
So, What Does This Mean for the AV Industry Installation Industry as a Whole?
If you want any level of automation or control, my advice at this stage, and while we’re very early into this long-running battle, is to pick the platform you have the most trust with or are most familiar with. You will need to accept they’re going to know everything about you, more than you even know about yourself. Pick one that you feel is the most secure, that can defend you, and be mindful that when push comes to shove they will always save themselves.
I think anyone that’s in their late 30s to early 40s and has been in the industry for some time comes with a huge amount of wisdom and an innate understanding of technology. As the first generation to have grown up with computers in everyday life, they are effectively native to modern microchip-based technology. Consequently, this generation has no fear of remotes and buttons and is willing to explore the world without instruction manuals by figuring out what works and what doesn’t through feel and intuition. It’s important not to assume that older generations will feel the same way about technology. As far as picking platforms goes, it is much easier for older generations to fall into the bear trap of interoperability problems, as they often simply lack the experience or intuition to guide them, even though they too lived through this age of technical development.
For the AV Industry, You Have to Compromise Once You’ve Picked Your Preferred Platform
You might not find all the functionalities you desire in one place – and this is where experience comes to the fore in making things gel together. You have most of your functionality in plan A and some of the rest in plan B with the understanding that these hacks can be easily broken. Of course, once you’ve got things working it is possible that any firmware update could reset things even for items and functionality that have been thoroughly tested, and as a professional integrator, you are well advised to warn clients against taking that fatal update step prematurely. Fortunately, these updates continue to improve. In today’s society, it is not just about absolute performance, it is now much more about functionality. Of course, it goes without saying that underpinning that functionality is good system design built with reliable cabling infrastructure and implemented by someone experienced.
Even more recently, there have been indications that these large platforms (Google, Alexa, Siri) have been under a lot of pressure to deliver profits. In fact, they have been running at massive losses. We can see this in many platforms that have already withdrawn from the market (Logitech, Samsung, etc..). What this means for us is that the investment in keeping abreast of technology advances may be affected and this in turn further affects what works and what will continue to work.
Rounding Things Up…
I think there are a lot of things at Kordz that we’ve said before that ring even more true today.
Firstly, know your suppliers and get to know them well. Build a strong two-way relationship because they will look after you when the chips are down. If you have a trusting and honest relationship with them, they’ll be smart enough to let you know from their own personal experience when their products aren’t going to operate well with another system that you are using.
Secondly, it’s easy to fall into the trap of selecting individual products based on absolute performance. After all, almost every professional wants to be installing the best gear available when the budget allows. Ask yourself though, how are you actually measuring performance? Is it because the equipment produces the best picture, or perhaps the best audio quality? The truth is that you should rank functionality and interoperability much higher, because if the whole project doesn’t hang together, then as far as the client is concerned, it’s a failure. Imagine building a client a high-performance car from scratch and fitting it with an engine that only starts half the time. When the engine runs it has the ultimate performance, but no matter how good the suspension and brakes are, if the engine doesn’t start then none of the car works and ultimately the client regards the whole car as broken. Don’t let your installations be like this, make sure that you have predictable reliability rather than ultimate performance some of the time.
At Kordz, this is something we spend a lot of time thinking about because we know this is becoming increasingly technical and difficult for integrators to navigate. Our approach is to help take the guesswork out of identifying the products that support reliable interoperability and functionality by developing products that are certified to work and individually quality tested before they leave the production line. We want our customers to have the confidence that we’ve done the pre-work so they don’t have to, they can just literally plug and play and seamlessly create an incredible system.
It’s the start of an excellent year for Kordz as we celebrate 20 years on our quest for connectivity assured. We’re exceptionally excited to head to ISE and announce a new one-of-a-kind cable system, so if you’re at the show please come check it out booth 2F450, and if not stay tuned to social media for the big reveal in a couple of weeks.
Here’s to a prosperous 2023.