In my role as Product Development Manager at PlusNet, I see lots of products that the seller would have us believe will be the 'next big thing'™.
It's rare that I agree. Few new technologies stand out as being anything life changing, and often I have to point out to manufacturers how notoriously difficult UK consumers are to please. Just because someone has sold X million units in Japan or the States it's no indication that a product will fly in the UK.
There is however one development that stands out from the crowd. By 2009 I believe it will have changed the way most of us consume our Internet at home. I'm not talking about super-uber-ultra pocket size laptops or Internet watches, but something that's been threatening to breakthrough for years - the simple old set top box.
There's nothing particularly surprising here of course. We've had Sky+ boxes under our telly for years and before that the more savvy among us brought a Tivo and converted our Xboxes to become Opensource streaming media players. What is new is that manufacturers are finally bringing their 'hybrid' solutions to market. These devices will bring together what until now has needed deep pockets or a degree in geekiness to achieve.
New products like the Archos TV+ represent a step in the right direction, but a device which combines a Freeview tuner, PVR, High Def local Media player, photo-viewer, IPTV streaming (enabled for real content like BBC iPlayer, 4OD etc) and a decent web browser remains illusive. The first manufacturer to do it well, and for the right price, is set to make a fortune.
The BBC iPlayer, as many people predicted, is the thing that will drive much of this change. It is already becoming a normal part of people's viewing habits. Dave plans to publish a detailed blog on the topic soon, but we have seen a 68% increase in streaming traffic since December. If the implications of that from an ISPs perspective are scary, what happens when people can watch iPlayer content directly on their telly is positively terrifying. I will leave Dave to expand on the topic of bandwidth, but I've already seen a demo from a company (who I hope we can work with in the future) with iPlayer working on a set top box and I can tell you that it's going to be very compelling for any consumer.
So, if 2008 is the year where streaming content goes mainstream, I think 2009 will be the year when the main method of Internet access in the home changes from the PC to a multitude of new devices, especially the set top box on top of your telly. You can be sure that all of us at PlusNet are planning for that now. As the manufacturers battle to build the best product, we will be talking to them all with a view to helping our customers find the best fit for their requirements. As well, of course, as making sure that your favourite ISP is geared up to support the inevitable increases in demand that will come as a result.
Let us know what you think. And if you know of a device that might change the world, please do add your comments to this post.