At a time when Microsoft has just unveiled the latest version of its Media Center OS, Apple’s iTunes goes from strength to strength, and BT announces its “Bluephone,” it is worth taking a step back and thinking about what technology consumers are going to be using in the next five years. According to Forrester Research — an independent, global technology research company — developments in this space will center on realizing the industry’s vision of the “digital home,” which Forrester defines as a single networking environment that allows a household to control and share entertainment, communications, and applications.

In its report “A Manifesto For The Digital Home,” Forrester paints a picture of what will drive adoption of advanced network technology and devices. According to Forrester, killer applications will include video distribution, flexible storage, and enriched voice communication. But it also signals that an explosion in functionality will lead to an explosion in control complexity. Consumers will demand flexibility (easy installation), easy control, security, mobility, and moderate pricing.

Yesterday, in a unique roundtable event at the Forrester offices in Frankfurt, leading representatives from Forrester, Microsoft, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, Bosch-Siemens Hausgeräte (BSH), Power PLUS Communications, and the OSGi Alliance came together to discuss some of the challenges that need to be addressed before this industry vision turns into a consumer reality. Key considerations that were discussed included: what kind of killer apps will consumers gravitate to — and which will fail to take off; what are the revenue opportunities for digital content — and what battles must manufacturers and providers fight to earn these revenues; which new devices will succeed as connectivity becomes ubiquitous; how much will broadband access alter the mix of entertainment consumption and communications usage in the home; and which companies will succeed in this new digital world — and which are bound to lose?

Paul Jackson, Principal Analyst Consumer Markets, Forrester Research and moderator at the roundtable event commented, “The technology to set up the digital home is out there and is getting better. But where is the content? To get this, we need buy-in from the media companies, as this is currently the single biggest barrier to turning this vision into a reality.” Jackson continued: “What is also lacking is the consumer impetus to buy into the idea of the digital home. We see some early adopters — willing to invest considerable amounts of time and money — installing some of the available technologies, yes. But the question here is: what will drive the next wave of consumers toward adopting the digital home? In our view, the answer is in the content.”

Armin Cremerius, Lead Business Group Windows Client, Microsoft Deutschland agreed with Forrester’s positioning and added: “We 100% believe that the PC industry in the consumer space will change due to the e-Home* developments, and Microsoft will convert its entire business to align with these developments. The e-Home revolution is here; change will be fast and quite holistic.”

“There has been a lot of talk about the Digital home,” continued Björn Fehrm, Senior Director Digital Home, Fujitsu Siemens Computers. ¿I believe we are putting a lot of reality into it with our SCALEO C living-room form factor PC and our ACTIVY Media Center, a true consumer electronic appliance for the TV corner. With these systems, we open a new world of digital entertainment and communication to the home user. It is clear that the role of the PC in the home is changing from being simply a work tool for school pupils and home workers to a main part of the digital home entertainment system.¿

“BSH was one of the earliest pioneers in developing ‘intelligent’ domestic appliances for the digital home,” according to Harald Pfersch, Product Manager Technology, Bosch Siemens Hausgeräte (BSH). “And in early September, we launched our latest system for ‘tomorrow’s kitchen’ under the name of serve@Home; it comprises all the appliances normally used in the home, from cooker and oven to fridge and freezer, dish-washer, washing machine, and tumble dryer. Soon serve@Home users will have a universal household operator interface at their disposal; rather like a cockpit, it will be capable of central control of lighting and security applications inside and outside the home, for example. The appliances may also be controlled and monitored via a special wireless tablet PC or mobile phone: from work, while shopping in the supermarket, from the car on the way home — wherever the owner happens to be at that moment.”

“The digital home of the future is a coming together of many different systems and worlds,” said Dirk Alsentzer, Head of Product Management, Power PLUS Communications & Powerline. “Broadband Powerline offers ideal network possibilities based on the Internet protocol. The combination of Powerline and wireless technologies offer the possibility of — without additional infrastructure requirements — connecting smart home applications and the world of home entertainment and also, in particular, the Internet.¿

Kai Hackbarth, Product Manager, Prosyst Software AG and representing the OSGi Alliance concluded: “In this ever-changing technology landscape, standards are more important than ever. The OSGi Alliance is a worldwide standard for ‘smart home’, telematics as well as mobile solutions. It helps device manufacturers, service providers, and third-party developers reduce development costs and create new revenue streams by offering value-added services.”