In the days before cellphones, Blackberry's and broadband, we understood the distinctions between business and personal, home and office. New technologies are changing all that. Industry structures, people's lifestyles, consumer devices and applications are all morphing in front of us and the old boundaries are disappearing.
Soon our children won't recall that people used to call things called "telephone companies" for telephone service and "cable companies" for video entertainment. Nor will they recall that a "game console" was used only for playing games, not for telling your opponents what you think of them. Or that a "broadcaster" simply transmitted a series of radio or television programs according to a schedule they determined.
Our concepts of "real time", "at home" and "living room TV" are being changed by PVRs, devices like Slingbox, and MobiTV .
In consumer electronics, we've watched the mobile phone turn into the Swiss Army knife of communications. Recent additions are the iTunes-enabled cell phone called the Rokr, courtesy of Apple and Motorola, and the subscription-based Napster To Go service on several mobile phones for $14.95 a month.
Broadcasters are also changing what they do. Satellite subscription broadcaster XM announced their new "XM + Napster" service which works on Samsung devices and others to be announced. Think of the service as a combination PVR for radio and MP3 player, that can make play lists mixing music from multiple sources. You can connect the XM/MP3 player to a home or car docking station to store audio content, and if the station plays a song you like you can mark it, then connect the device to your PC to see which songs are available for purchase from the XM+Napster downloading service. XM subscribers will be able to listen to (stored) satellite radio programs in places where satellite doesn't reach (like subways) or use the MP3 player function for on-demand music.
Another blurring is happening in the UK for video. The BBC has announced an online download service called MyBBCPlayer, to be available next year, which will allow viewers to download any program they missed over the previous seven days. Viewers would also be able to purchase items via the site. A simulcast of BBC One or BBC Two is also planned.
Some US cable operators are also thinking about the "simulcast on PC" notion. Time Warner Cable is trialing a service called "Broadband TV." TWC customers who subscribe to high-speed data can view TWC’s expanded basic tier (75 channels) on their home computers at no additional charge.
Many of these developments are a real plus for consumers. However, we're hoping that in the mad pursuit of all this "mix and match" technology, everyone remembers that the real trick is not inventing all these wonderful products and services, but in making them easy and intuitive enough that real people can actually use them.