Cheap Will Be Smart. Expensive Will Be Dumb.

I wrote about this a while back but I've been refining and sharpening my thinking on the question of which devices will be smart and which devices will be dumb. It's an important question because it gets to what platforms developers should build on.

I believe that cheap devices will be smart and expensive devices will be dumb. Here's why:

Technology is moving very fast these days. Look at the latest iPhone 4s. It has Siri in it. Look at the latest Android Galaxy S II. It has NFC and Bluetooth 3.0 in it. And these phones will be leapfrogged in 12-18 months with something even more amazing. Furthermore, these devices have open marketplaces for apps and APIs and SDKs that allow those app developers to bring new experiences to these devices every day.

Contrast that with cars, boats, refridgerators, air conditioners, TVs, and other devices which we are led to believe will become "smart" in the coming years. These devices are usually owned for somewhere between 3 years and 10 years by most consumers. The upgrade cycle for these devices is too long to allow most consumers to experience the kind of smarts on these devices that they are experiencing on their cheapest devices with shorter upgrade cycles.

And that's why technologies like airplay, DLNA, and similar approaches are so important. When smart and cheap devices can take control of expensive and dumb devices, we will see the dumb devices become smart.

When I got the SoundCloud app on my iPad and I airplayed into my sonos, it was one of those "I get it" moments. Every time I get into my car these days, I want to airplay into my car audio system. The idea of connecting via an aux jack seems so nuts.

I don't expect the makers of expensive devices to accept this idea quickly. It goes against the grain. How can my expensive device be dumb when one of those cheap devices is so smart? But I'm certain that this is the way the market will play out over time.

Bridge technologies will play an important role for a while. As will Apple's licensing strategy for airplay. Airplay could become a standard if it is broadly and cheaply licensed. Otherwise, we will see other technologies in this market. We may anyway because there are other issues that matter, like the ability to connect over a cellular data connection instead of a wifi connection, latency, and a number of other important features.

Regardless of timing and the technologies that get us there, I have no doubt that the way we will make our expensive devices smart will be via our cheap devices. That's how I am viewing the market opportunity these days. It's a very crisp and clear vision. And that's a good thing when you are trying to peer into the future.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Josh Kramer

    Fred – Audi has a Bluetooth link to any enabled device as a headphones device. When I get in my car my iPod just picks up wherever I last left off…I sometime use pandora in the car that way too.

    1. fredwilson

      i’m wondering whether bluetooth is the longterm solution or something like airplay isi still find the bluetooth pairing thing very painful

      1. JimHirshfield

        I was gonna point out bluetooth in cars. It seems to be the best solution to-date. At least good enough to extend the dumb/expensive long enough to make the smart/cheap useful.Pandora was on stage this past week at the BI Ignition conference and they showed a Cadillac commercial that featured Pandora and other integration with handheld device. I think it uses bluetooth.Frankly, there was also some advanced map apps on-console, and other apps that required swiping and other finger manipulation. Scary, if you think about the dumb/expensive driver.

      2. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie)

        +1 Fred. In the BRIC markets, a “Bluetooth AirPlay” definitely seems like the way forward. Cheap n’ dirty. Just good enough.¬†

    2. William Mougayar

      Is sound quality via car bluetooth pretty good or still lower than a direct connection?

      1. Nick Grossman

        I play rdio in my car, via bluetooth connection — the sound is perfect (as far as I can tell)

      2. Timothy Meade

        It’s a good codec called SBC, not quite lossless but much better than most lossy codecs. If you see this old response on your new service you blew it out of the water. Signed up for an invite but about a week behind you regulars.

  2. awaldstein

    Great piece to jump start Sunday.The dumb expensive pieces go through cycles that need to be timed though.Hybrid electric for cars. 3D for flat screens and too thin to hold audio or control elements.Hitting the rock at the speeding train with your smart cheap capabilities to take advantage of these platform changes is also part of the equation for innovation

  3. Jon Beltran de Heredia

    When relative costs change dramatically, all kinds of surprising things happen. I’m shocked and fascinated that the actual solution to the enormous pain of setting up file sharing between PCs in a local network is to go through a Dropbox server 1,000s of miles away, but that’s what has happened.



      1. panterosa,

        That is another way of saying ‘I won’t take no for an answer’.

  4. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Great, great topic – and love the headline – will return to this later, when I’ve finished with Christmas tree duties ūüôā

    1. fredwilson

      ooh. christmas tree duties. makes me all warm and cozy just thinking of that.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Done!As you can see, it’s a rather modest and eclectic ensemble – but, each decoration carries a meaning for us – times in places we love – New York, London, Israel, Austria, etc – those no longer with us – childhood memories – friends and family, etc.This is the earliest I have ever put up the tree and decorated it. Feel incredibly engaged with the whole Christmas spirit this year – more so than ever before. Weird feeling, but I’m enjoying it. Even hearing The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ in a sterile supermarket the other day made me feel all warm.It’s been a seminal year in many (bad) ways, and I am looking forward to a new start in 2012 and hopefully working with ‘good’ people. Life’s too short for spending your time with bad people.

        1. Mark Essel

          @Egoboss (this was a reply to your tree above)”hopefully working with ‘good’ people. Life’s too short for spending your time with bad people.”Working on that as well Carl, best of luck to us both :D.And an early Merry Christmas! (this coming from our Caribbean vacation in St. Thomas, loved the mangrove kayaking/snorkeling and our trip to St Johns and Trunk Bay two days ago).

        2. Rohan

          Yup. The No Asshole rule! Should be ruthless on enforcing that one, we must.

          1. panterosa,

            My friend made me laugh so hard last week.A bad karma bad friend of his, kept calling him, trying to wheedle his way back in. My friend renamed him “Asshole” on his phone, so he was reminded not to pick up the phone. And he got a laugh each time it rang and had “Asshole calling”.I think this should be standard deployment in self defense when purging the bad vibe and bad people from our lives.

          2. Rohan

            Hahahaha.¬†That’s a funny story. ¬†:DYeah. It takes a lot of discipline to say no.¬†There’s enough negativity in the world as it is. ūüôā

        3. fredwilson

          nice tree!

        4. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. William Mougayar

            Yup. That’s what I suggested to Carl.

          2. Tom


    2. Rohan

      good papa ūüôā

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        The cat thinks so, sometimes ūüėČ

    3. William Mougayar

      Don’t forget to connect your smartphone to the tree lights. There must be an App for that? Another dumb/smart marriage. Only thing is that the dumb one here is cheap too, so that example is the exception to Fred’s premise.¬†

    4. Tom Labus

      I recommend eggnog first.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Lol, I’ll skip on that!Maybe a wee dram of Monkey Shoulder, now it’s dark outside ūüôā

  5. William Mougayar

    Funny when I saw the headline cheap vs. expensive, I thought you were going to segment $500 toys vs. $200 ones, whereas your paradigm was roughly the under $500 vs. the over $1000 and upwards into car level ranges. Good to see that.This ties in as well with the Internet of Things trend which you have also written about before. We’ve been talking about making “Things” smarter for a while. I’d like to see more of that, although long buying cycles will make it longer to see.¬†But there seems to be a general limitation when using these bridge technologies (even the car Aux cable which is my most valuable $15 accessory). They generally communicate in one-way with these dumb products. There is no read/write. It’s just read. To make them really smart, there has to be a two-way communication between the devices.



      1. William Mougayar

        In other words, you’re saying: Keep dumb devices dumb, but make smart ones, smarter. Ok!

      2. Sve

        Like master-blaster (thunderdome) has master always in charge. But it’s good sometimes if blaster can say simple messages back like “Duck! There’s a rock coming.”

  6. John Revay

    SONOS & AirplayHUMM, Thought long and hard about Sonos and Airplay this summer. ¬†Seems like you still need an extra box – the Apple¬†AirPort Express Base Station ¬†– plugging in to¬†the¬†AUX in port on any Sonos device w/ a line in jack.I use to think that Apple should have just bought Sonos…now w/ Airplay – I am not sure if it makes sense – or if they open the Airplay API and let Sonos talk w/ that.

    1. fredwilson

      worse. apple refuses to license airplay to sonos. so all of us loyal sonos users are forced to do the airport express to sonos via line in hack. it sucks

      1. Irving Fain

        Just bought a system yesterday after a lot of research. Ended up going with a Denon receiver that has airplay built in. Amazing. Not only can the iphone act as an effective remote, but I can connect and manage any streaming service from my phone directly to the receiver. I added “Airfoil” onto my computer also so anything from the computer can now stream directly to the receiver. This cut out any connection I had to make from the airport express to a receiver / sonos machine.Only downside: the terrible experience at Best Buy and dealing with in-store retail which seems to just get worse and worse….

        1. fredwilson

          airfoil is a requirement on any laptop/desktop these daysits crazy that apple will license airplay to denon but not sonos

          1. Irving Fain

            Agree – seems like their desire to own the whole ecosystem is standing the way of what sounds like a better business decision (allowing anyone to integrate with airplay).

        2. Otis Funkmeyer

          In-store retail is such a nightmare of idiocy and inefficiency at this point that I thank God almost every single day for Amazon Prime.

  7. Jan Schultink

    Manufacturers of heavy, expensive things still have some strategies:1) Audio/video quality. That’s how HiFi brands worked for decades. Get people to pay triple for a 10% better sound quality. There must still be something you can do here in the age of airplay2) Software. Maybe an iOS or Android app can be locked to only work if you own something heavy/expensive. You can start selling software for fridges, cars, HiFi systems.¬†Another important field where this could revolutionize things is medical devices which are still heavy/expensive at the moment. With open APIs this field could undergo some dramatic change.

    1. leigh

      Things that connect expensive things ūüôā

      1. JimHirshfield

        Hey Leigh – Where ya been?¬† ūüėČ

    2. Tom

      I think you’re being a little unfair to HiFi – decades ago, you actually did get 200% better quality for 200% more expensive, because the cheap stuff was so terrible. What happened over the last few decades is that the quality of “cheap” music players rose so fast that it caught up with HiFi. And given that there are limitations on how much quality we can perceive, those manufacturers are basically pressed up against a limit on how much quality they can deliver. So they’ve essentially turned into very expensive furniture manufacturers who sell on brand and looks.There are still “premium” options but even those are now differentiating based on experience (read: software, design quality) rather than hardware or brand. I have a $2000 Onkyo hifi setup and a $300 Sonos Play 3. Guess which gets more use? The Sonos, because it makes it so much easier to listen to music. I could get the same music from an app on my iPhone, but I spent the $300 for the Sonos because it offers such a better overall listening experience due to its great software platform.

  8. LIAD

    Is cheap/expensive the best/only way to segment smart/dumb?Doesn’t longevity work just as well?Items with long lifespan/replacement cycles will always be trailing those with a shorter lifespan and quicker replacement cycles.Cell phones can cost more than TV’s. TV’s are dumb because their lifespan is long, not because they are expensive.

    1. Nick Grossman

      Right — expensive = big = hard to change = infrastructure. ¬†Dumb infrastructure, smart at the edges.



    2. AVCoholic

      Having a long lifespan shouldn’t limit their potential. TV’s aren’t build to be updated because that would prolong their lifespan which means they’ll be selling less TV’s. There’s no reason a TV can’t be any different then a computer. Adding and replacing parts and updating software should be the norm for products like that. When the companies that make them decide to do that, then we’ll see them catch up.¬†



        1. Jack Gavigan

          Not a problem if, instead of building FOR the future, you Build the Future. Then you get to choose what the future is.Moral of the story: Never use four words when three is better.

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    3. fredwilson

      great point

    4. Danny Aranda

      Agreed.  Further, is cheap/expensive the best way to segment within a product category?  Are BMWs dumber than Volkswagens?  Does an Android user buy a new phone more frequently than an iPhone user?

  9. Mark Zohar

    Software beats Hardware. Open beats Closed. OTA beats Line-in. Shared beats Personal. Frictionless trumps All.¬†From the first moment I “swiped” my photos and videos from my iPhone to my TV during a dinner party a year ago, I realized that AirPlay is by far Apple’s most groundbreaking and powerful OS ever. With the exception of being Open, which isn’t Apple’s strong suit, AirPlay achieves all of the key attributes noted above. It is the new social software fabric that not only connects devices but also connects content and experiences.¬†I fully expect that within a few years, my entire home, car and office will be running on the AirPlay OS (or something similar) to intelligently and frictionlessly connect my content and experiences between devices (smart and dumb) and share them socially with my family, friends and colleagues. Make no mistake about it, AirPlay, not the iPad, is Apple’s post-PC rabbit-in-the-hat.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. exactly

      1. ayo

        Agreed – the widely noted Steve Jobs comment of having cracked the control mechanic for the (coming) Apple TV is almost definitely Airplay based (rather than Siri).

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK

          BOTH.AND MORE.

          1. JamesHRH

            And you know this how?Dino robots get mind reading powers now?;-)

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    2. Aaron Klein

      I really hope an Airplay-compatible open standard comes out. One company owning the standard for what is in effect a smart Internet traffic delivery protocol is just stupid.I’d like to see someone reverse engineer Airplay and make a TV that the iPad can’t tell isn’t an Apple TV. I’d like to see Apple explain how an iPad software update that makes your TV stop working is “good for the customer.”(I say that as a fan of many Apple products.)

    3. LE

      ¬†I can’t tell from the photos I see on the web but I’m wondering if there is some kind of “Intel Inside” type logo for airplay to alert the end purchaser to devices that are airplay enabled. And as a marketing ploy. A quick search of USPTO doesn’t reveal anything of Intel Inside “marketing grade” other than what I’ve attached which sucks and was filed last month.¬†Intel Inside:… “Intel has become one of the world’s most recognizable computer brands following its long-running Intel Inside campaign.”Nor does anything remarkable appear on

  10. EmilSt

    Our smart phones are more and more our gateway for interaction with other people and they will be as well for other devices.But as it took a lot of time to get 2 bil people online it will take some time to get “things” online.There are already home AC, security, lights… systems that can be controlled with app. Also some car systems allows you to start the engine through app and pre warm it in a winter morning.Imagine every single device you own to tweet or email you when it’s ready for regular service (or needs a service) and Cc your service guy as well.Also you could talk to all your devices through Siri. “Siri, turn my engine in 5 min and set the AC to 70′ “

    1. ShanaC

      what happens when your phone is newer than your car and ac and lights and no longer can interface.

      1. JLM

        These are all just control issues — as an example, you can have an antiquated HVAC system and change out the thermostat and reap huge energy savings, you can retrofit state of the art filter systems.On a car, you can simply change out the audio components. ¬†In my ’66 convertible, I have a cutting edge bluetooth system that was retrofitted for about $400.

        1. ShanaC

          a) your car is awesomeb) how possible do you think this is in a house?

        2. ShanaC

          for b) I meant when it comes to cost of retrofitting computing

      2. EmilSt

        Probably there will be some software upgrades on both sides.PS. It’s great that you joined our meetup TSPN. Looking forward to meet you…

        1. ShanaC

          I have a birthday party that comes first that night, maybe next time

  11. ShanaC

    Personal thought on this post:Really, this is a continuum of expensiveness. The longer lasting the item, the harder it is to build a sensor +computing language +connections that will last under large variety of conditions.What I think is possible is for us to build little secondary sensor devices like twine (… ) and attach them ad hoc. ¬†Even then, it will be an imperfect way of dealing with computing, as to get them to really function, you need them to connect with the machine in question and get data out of it. ¬†Meanwhile, connectors also fade away (like USB, eventually it too will disappear)Otherwise, yes, this is a big problem



      1. ShanaC

        Do you know of computing pipes that can act the way aqueducts do?

  12. PrasannaKrishnamoorthy

    Seems to me it really is one smart *personal* device which all others can be slaved to. Your data & programs for this device may also not be on the device but on the cloud, elsewhere.But your smart device is the controller and conduit to all the other dumb devices.This way you learn how to use one smart device really well, and the smart device manages all the dumb ones you encounter and don’t want to learn the UI of.

    1. JLM

      Brilliant comment. ¬†Well played.This is all about CONVERGENCE. ¬†Everything technical is going to converge into a single device which will be given to a child at birth like a US SSAN.Already the computer, phone, GPS, PDA, camera, video receiver, video displayer — you could go on for days — are converging into a single device with all the data in the cloud.It is here and it is Hal.

      1. RichardF

        so true JLM.¬† The quality of the camera (video and still) on my latest mobile is unbelievable.¬† I’m carrying an 8meg¬† HD video camera in my pocket.¬† It is literally life changing when it comes to capturing spontaneous¬† family moments and then sharing them on the family blog.

      2. laurie kalmanson

        in the previous century. when the wristwatch was hitech, people imagined adding a phone to it.

        1. JLM

          Dick Tracy did it first.

          1. laurie kalmanson

            exactly. but the wristwatch is now just a few pixels at the top of the phone’s screen.just to be anachronistic, i still have a watch, with hands — it’s easier than pulling out the phone to check the time.

          2. JLM

            I have several vintage Swiss watches which are paper thin and which are oh so chic.Vintage is the new snobbery.I also have a WWII Army watch my father wore and a set of Zeiss binoculars which have lasted through 3 wars.

          3. laurie kalmanson

            awesome watchesi have a couple of swatches; cheap and thin.print is the new vinyl; vintage is the new new.

      3. PrasannaKrishnamoorthy

        CONVERGENCE – that’s the word I missed :)A single id – ala SSAN – yes.A single device you carry – yes.Extending it to Science Fiction – a child at birth gets a SIM ala GSM.The Device will simply ‘absorb’ that ID from the SIM, like Android phones use your gmail id today, so you can use any device seamlessly. You will never actually have to transfer anything between devices, since your id causes it to pickup whatever data from the cloud.//using

  13. Greg Athas

    Great analysis, my biggest concern is getting good standards and getting “dumb” manufacturers to make great dumb interfaces. ¬†It’s frustrating right now how my devices won’t completely talk to each other, with Apple being the one who insists on using its language (AirPlay) even though everyone else speaks DLNA. ¬†I can already send pictures from my Symbian and Android devices to my TV directly, my iOS devices need a translator (AppleTV)On the “dumb” interfaces, you really do need a good large display to use things like GPS, but ¬†I¬†doubt¬†the manufacturers will be willing to sell a “solely” dumb terminal in their cars. ¬†Like the cell phone carriers they will want to “add value” (and price) so it will still push some undesired services of it’s own that I’d rather just use on my phone with a great display

  14. Nick Grossman

    You might add that expensive devices will need to be dumb *and open*.¬†This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the context of government IT infrastructure, which moves even more slowly than anything mentioned here.¬† There are a lot of problems with government IT (cost, speed, flexibility, etc), and I believe that part of the solution is to stop trying to make all of it smart — and realize that letting it be dumb is OK, especially if you pair it w/ Open.

    1. fredwilson

      that would be wonderful. won’t happen without some hesitation on both fronts by the manufacturers

      1. Nick Grossman

        Right — in the case of gov, it also causes some hesitation on the part of the client (the gov making the buy). Will require a few really compelling examples of what happens when infrastructure is open (e.g., all of the app building in the transit space), and then clients will ask for it and manufacturers will see it as a feature. We’ve started to see this happen in the 311 space, but it’s still relatively early.But clearly most manufacturers will resist being commoditized as part of the “dumb pipes” — but I expect there will be a good opportunity for those that get out in front of it, and realize there’s an opportunity to make the whole pie bigger.

  15. Dave W Baldwin

    Good post once again and wise words for everyone to heed.

  16. James Barnes

    “Expensive will be dumb” – you hit the nail. Take a look at the Vertu range of mobile devices.The poorer amongst us cannot afford not to go for the cheaper option simply because we need to do more.

  17. reece

    we talk about this a lot in regards to the impending “Apple TV”¬†processing power evolves too fast for me to replace large, expensive gear as quickly as the cycle suggestsso i think we’ll see TV’s stay “dumb” – they’ll be smarter, but they won’t be geniuses – and the smaller devices [tablets, phones] will get extremely intelligentthat being said, the larger devices are getting smarter in general, just not as smart as they’re smaller/cheaper counterparts… reminds me of big co’s and startups in general ūüėČ

  18. Conrad Ross Schulman

    Just remember guys..its cool to save money these days.¬†It used to be “baller” to spend money. These days if your saving, your the winner!¬†

    1. Mr. Majani

      I think that’s called ‘growing up.’

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        And being self-employed for many years ūüôā

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Agreed.¬†I get very little pleasure from any sort of consumerism, nowadays. Much of it is so shallow and when one breaks the habit of being a drone consumer and begins to look at things objectively – ie, do I REALLY need this? – it’s liberating.That’s why this topic is so stimulating – the concept of re-usability, modularity, scalability, adaptability…

      1. Mark Essel

        I’ve reached a similar state of shoppers dilemma, or is it consumer enlightenment?¬†What can I save and reuse later, and what must I continually upgrade to be of utility. I’d hate to have to purchase a new phone ever year or two, but it appears that’s the current trend, at least in the near term. Likely the vicious phone update cycle will slow down a bit much like the pc and laptop rush that preceded it.Software is so splendid. Need an update? Just download the latest version or simply connect to the latest site/api.

        1. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Software is one of the most eco-friendly forms of consumerism around, I guess?The ‘phone cycle is interesting – ie, the iPhone 4 is truly the first phone device I have had that I can’t really see a need to change/upgrade for a LONG time.¬†I was appalled a few months ago when clearing out my home office and came across boxes of old cables, chargers, phones, etc, just how much redundant waste there was in front of me. Why did I have 4 extra-long RS232/Centronics cables, still? What use were they now? We need sustainable interfaces – this is why wireless is so cool. Don’t even start me on SCART cables(!).¬†I had 12 – 12! – old mobile phones. And I’ve had more, these were just the ones I’d kept, for some reason. Utterly ridiculous and such a mockery of design and manufacturing. Waste.

          1. William Mougayar

            RS-232 omg. Brings back memories. And parallel cables. Remember the old saying “parallel or RS-232? I bet you for some young folks in their 20’s, they won’t know what we’re talking about. Bluetooth & USB are the only connection things they heard of.

          2. LE

            It’s sad. I still keep stuff related to that as if it might be needed some day. I remember (audio) tape recording the tones ¬†between a 300 baud modem on a teletype ¬†and a remote host. If you play the recording back into the acoustic coupler the teletype will repeat the entire conversation verbatim.I actually had one of these in my bedroom which I used to hookup to the school mainframe and used to type my papers. Used, it cost me $400 in late 70’s dollars. :…Other attached image is a rs232 tester which is laying around.

          3. Paul

            I’m in my 30’s and had to Google what RS-232 and Parallel Circuit are! (I’m familiar with them, I just forgot what they’re called) ¬†I agree with you though, I have this penchant of keeping my old units (call me sentimental) up until one day I came across my box of “antiques”–I don’t even know if I can sell that junk, or if I can at least recycle it.Chargers are even more irritating. ¬†I read an article in Feb ’09 in which the major mobile manufacturers agreed to come up with a universal charger (the microUSB was the preferred option), to minimize the need (and wastage) of producing device chargers. ¬†I think Nokia “kinda” does this with some of their models, I use one with the 2.0mm charger but also can be charged using the microUSB chargers of BlackBerry and other such chargers. ¬†Thing is, I still don’t see this implemented fully amongst device manufacturers–I guess they don’t want their revenues from accessories sales to be hit by this move.

          4. panterosa,

            I had an argument with an Ubinto guy the other day. I am a long time mac girl. We were discussing cables and I said I was always appalled at non apple cables – SO UGLY. Why? Well, cheap at least, he replied, not apple rip off prices.¬†I prefer to have pricier better designed object in constant use vs ugly.¬†That got us onto chargers of course as next topic. I simply can’t manage with so many chargers, so ugly and clumsy all of them.And since it’s December lets include the xmas lights with the big stupid transformer box plug. Ridiculous!

      2. LE

        “do¬†I REALLY need this? – it’s liberating.”Same thing works with weight control. You flip the reward system to gain pleasure from not eating past a certain point.

      3. SubstrateUndertow

        With age comes perspective?Lets hope that perspective is becoming a more culturally diverse phenomena!

  19. fltron

    Car manufacturers are a good example because they feel technology options like AirPlay aren’t going to make or break a sale for them. That might be somewhat true, but I can see that changing over time. Current twitter integrations seem rather useless, but from my own experience they’re getting there.3 years ago I bought a BMW with “iPod integration” and it was bloody awful, and I paid the $100 for a special cable. This year I upgraded on the car and it had full stereo bluetooth. I have AirPlay streaming to my home stereo, head outside, turn on the car, and whatever I was listening to continues on in the car. When I turn off the car, the iPhone stops playing music (or PodCast).¬†Now if only my home stereo would pick-up the iPhone automatically and continue playing whatever I was listening to…¬†I won’t buy a car again without this feature, and I could see us reaching the point where like you said… big purchases are going to be decided upon which technology they have.

    1. LE

      “BMW with “iPod integration” and it was bloody awful,”Had the same situation and got rid of the car in less than a year (but not because of that I just used an old iphone to serve up the music).”¬†technology options like AirPlay aren’t going to make or break a sale for them”Right. Same as people don’t buy a luxury watch to tell time. As long as there is a workaround, even if inconvenient, it will be some time before lack of certain features kills a sale for a luxury manufacturer.

    2. AnthonyGadgetX

      I believe Ford will be making a CES push to promote Sync.

  20. Gary Chou

    Incidentally, the latest version of Boxee supports Airplay. ¬†Also, I’ve been using this for all of my home macs:

    1. fredwilson

      yes, but its an “experimental feature”.

  21. Steve Hallock

    I’m not 100% certain this has to be the case, but agree it is a strong possibility. ¬†The tipping point will come when “expensive” finally hooks up to the internet and embraces user customizable software.I drive a brand new top of the line Mercedes. ¬†However, the Google Maps app on my Android phone is lightyears better than the car’s Nav, especially the voice input. ¬†This is almost totally a function of software rather than hardware.So here is an alternative scenario. ¬†Every device is hooked up to the internet. ¬†“Expensive” devices, since they are usually larger and with their own power source, come with hardware that is 3-10 years ahead of what is available on mobile platforms. ¬†They start to run proper OS’s that are cloud upgraded and support 3rd party developed applications.There is no reason why my car can’t have the equivalent of my iMac as its computer. ¬†This would be plenty of computing power for anything I’d want to do in the car over the next 3-10 years. ¬†If I could customize the software and have it update with new versions, I’d be all set.The important thing is that expensive device manufacturers need to realize that technology is now important in everything, and that they suck at it. ¬†Instead of creating all of these proprietary softwares that are total crap, they need to outsource and open up. ¬†That would be a perfectly acceptable solution in my mind.

    1. ShanaC

      How would you support external devices and software as those pieces change, even when the car doesn’t.

      1. Steve Hallock

        Not sure what extra devices you mean, but software can simply be user cloud upgradable like all of our other devices.The point is that these expensive products, let’s use cars as an example, view their computers more like an instrument cluster than a PC/Smart Phone. ¬†This is bound to change once people demand a convergence of their devices, and mobile data gets easy and cheap to deliver (LTE should help). ¬†At that point, I don’t think Fred’s assertion that our cheap devices (namely our phones) will control our expensive ones.There is no reason that Mercedes cannot include powerful hardware in the car that will stay powerful enough for at least 5 years. ¬†There is also no reason that instead of designing crap software, they could skin Android just like Amazon did with the Fire. ¬†With data in the cloud anyway, you’ve basically got all you need and interoperability is easy. ¬†My point is that cheap controlling expensive makes sense given how things are right now. ¬†I would rather control my car computer with my phone because my phone computer is a million times better. ¬†But this is not due to any limitation other than the priorities and management of the car company. ¬†There are lots of better ways.

        1. Jack

          Better to leave the hardware out all together, and just supply a low level interface. ¬†Then you choose your own computer – of course the BMW option would fit better and look the same as the car, so would be a premium option. ¬†Cheapskates could slot their iphone in.I think java started as a kind of hardware appliance interface. ¬†Time to resurrect the idea, but simpler – I don’t think appliances should offer up executable code neccessarily,more like RPC (and especially don’t hardwire the actual user-interface, what’s the point in that, there would be no scope to customize or improve the interface beyond reverse-engineering, or awaiting the manufacturer’s updates)

          1. tylernol

            car makers won’t go for leaving a plug-in-your-tablet-as-the-computer “head” idea anytime soon. Their margins on car navigation systems are huge.¬†

    2. fredwilson

      i agree with you steve. but the TV companies that outsourced to Google TV got hurt pretty badly by that choice.

      1. Steve Hallock

        Poor execution on both parts rather than a poor decision IMHO



      3. tylernol

        it is pretty apparent that Google TV was not though out to simplify a users experience but to give Google hooks into TV watching habits and Google did not give any effort to securing content deals. Another thing that sunk the first generation Google TV devices was the “partnership” with Intel, forcing an overpriced and shoddy Intel atom chipset into the BOM.

  22. LE

    Similar to the comments that people make about the current crop of web applications (and social) much of what is available in the world innovation wise is driven by what’s good for men and what men care about (or in the case of the web what’s good for 20 somethings what their needs are). If it doesn’t solve a problem or create a benefit for men money isn’t going to be put into it *as easily* until some external event makes it happen. Until things hit a tipping point and companies figure out they can make more money. This could change of course if more woman were in engineering of course and able to enlighten men to the needs of woman. Take note¬†@lauriekalmanson:disqus¬†Forgetting your point about “smart” devices for a second, let’s look at the devices you mentioned.Cars – lots of stuff happens with cars, they are important to men. Models change yearly. This has been going on since pretty much the start. If there is no smartness in an auto it’s because it won’t help the automaker sell more cars. It’s that simple. If you’ve ever shopped for a Mercedes or Porsche or other high end brand you will notice they usually run behind on much of the little things at least that you can get in, say, a Ford. But as¬†@awaldstein:disqus¬†will verify if he decides to buy a car it will probably be a Porsche almost regardless of the gadgets. He’s not buying a Hyundai. (This is not to say that the high end brands haven’t been innovated on some features Mercedes has on many things (collision avoidance) as does Porsche but not with gadgets or coin holders (hondas innovation on the first accord I believe) etc.) and they were both I believe late on bluetooth. On the newest expensive Porsche you connect the ipod by “aux”.Boats – same. Men. New models, bigger, faster better etc. And like cars it’s an emotional purchase.¬†Refrigerators – used by men obviously but primarily cared about by woman. Not much happening nobody lusts over refrigerators. Men don’t think about them other than to pull the beer out. (And yes logistically they are big and hard to replace. But that didn’t stop Men from replacing old tube tv’s did it?)Ovens – (you didn’t mention but you probably meant to). With the exception of the high end ranges (driven by those TV real estate shows and luxury brands that have recently come about) same as refrigerators. They are a woman product. (Except for gays and that most likely led to some of the current high end adoption I would guess.)Air conditioners – Men (and woman) don’t care other than they work.¬†TV’s – Cared about by Men and we have seen plenty of consumer activity and replacement. This has been fueled by logistics (you can haul a LCD or Plasma in your car from Best Buy. Don’t think that isn’t a factor in replacing even an expensive object. Also obviously Football = TV sales for men.¬†Washing Machines – (you also left this out but it goes with the other devices you’ve mentioned). This is probably the classic case of a product driven by women and not men. Have you ever done wash? Isn’t it obvious that you could get much more wash done if you had two washers for every dryer or 2 washers and 2 dryers? They aren’t that expensive. Why aren’t houses designed to accommodate multiple washers and dryers? Have you ever hogged multiple washers/dryers in a Laundromat? It’s great, right? You get things done much quicker. If men did the wash, we’d see much more innovation in that area. At the very least you’d see houses with bigger laundry rooms and people spending, oh, an extra $1500 (trivial) in order to greatly decrease the time it takes to do the wash. But it’s not important to men generally and there is no social proof so people don’t do that behavior (there is social proof now for ovens which is why people drool over those high end brands). ¬†But the bottom line is men don’t care about ovens.So while I agree with your statement “owned for somewhere between 3 years and 10 years by most consumers” as certainly a reason for the lack of innovation I don’t think that accounts for the lion’s share of lack of innovation. It is very clear that other devices (computers, cars, tv’s) could easily last 3 to 10 years. They don’t last because there is a need created that makes you want to replace them more often (HDTV, new os update etc.). That doesn’t exist with the other products. There is nothing and no company driving people to replace these products (it happens with cars but as mentioned they don’t add a feature unless it will help sell more. So if the consumer doesn’t care it won’t make it to the product).As much as I don’t like government getting in the way this might be something that needs to be driven by government. Much the way “energy star” has resulted in laser printers and other devices that idle at (what is it?) 5 watts instead of keeping a fuser heated all day. That wasn’t driven by the consumer it was driven by the government.Edit: By “men” and “woman” I mean legacy men and woman. The current direction is obviously tilting in the other direction. For example when I was growing up men *never* helped with the dishes. It simply didn’t happen.

    1. JLM

      Lots of great insights. ¬†Well played!I am particularly struck at how much packaging has improved.The old white washing machine and dryer is now avant-garde in its design and packaging. ¬†I have been wondering if I could use the “steam cycle” to cook shellfish? ¬†Wife and maid very cool to this idea.The improvement in performance is unbelievable. ¬†A 20 SEER AC unit with dual compressors and a variable speed motor with a programmable thermostat and humidity control is available to every homeowner in America. ¬†This was cutting edge commercial HVAC technology just a very few years ago.You can suck the humidity down to 40% but beware the shrinkage of your crown moldings and fireplace mantles. ¬†Make sure your house is tight. ¬†80F @ 40% RH is comfortable and quite divine.Don’t overlook the impact of “vintage” — I drive a ’66 Chevy Impala Super Sport convertible and it is fun, cheap and reliable. ¬†Vintage is the new snobbery.

      1. ShanaC

        In case you are actually curious about trying this, apparently you can steam whole fishes wrapped in tinfoil using your dishwasher…(try this at your own risk)

        1. QJH

          I’ve prepared one of the best pieces of Salmon I’ve tasted this way. Just a little salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. The “wash” keeps all the moisture in the filet.¬†Highly recommended!¬†

      2. LE

        Thanks.””steam cycle” to cook shellfish”Go directly for this, the Still Spirits crab cooker:…Or you could pick up an old autoclave for the kitchen.

      3. Rohan

        old is gold.

      4. William Mougayar

        “Vintage is the new snobbery.” Absolutely…I’m going to dust off my zoot suit ūüôā

      5. karen_e

        I used to get so many looks, eyebrows, waves, and giggles when I drove my 1971 Saab. Same era as your Impala – back when cars were all metal, sigh, and beautifully and thoughtfully designed.¬†I only had it for a few years. I couldn’t leave Seattle with it because I simply had to live within 50 miles of my collector/mechanic friend¬†– otherwise,¬†I was toast!

        1. JLM

          You gotta have the right mechanic.

      6. fredwilson

        nice car JLM!

        1. JLM

          When you come to Texas, we will cruise for chicks!

          1. panterosa,

            Is cruising with chicks out of fashion?

      7. panterosa,

        My dearest friend had a ’65…..The best red ever.Both he and the car are gone. So sad.

    2. ShanaC

      well now people do.Truthfully, a lot of these items are still gendered. ¬†And for some (uh, mes out there) things like ovens should be sexified with technology. ¬†I want a better way to input temperature with greasy hands, and set a timer, beyond the “multifunction button” method.Same thing with laundry. ¬†So many machines now have sensors galore, yet fine tuning laundry washes is really hard.I don;t think these technologies would be improved by adding computers in them per say. ¬†I do think making it easy to add small, external computers by making connections and ports standardized would be a start.

      1. LE

        ”¬†don;t think these¬†technologies would be improved by adding computers in them per say”Exactly. And all you have to do is look at what “Steve” did for phones to see why that is the case. You have to de-VCR the experience as well.By the way speaking of UX I bought my wife a kindle and noticed that after putting in a password you have to hit “ok”. On the iphone after you enter the password it logs you in right away. I’m guessing this is obviously a patent issue since I can’t imagine why Amazon would require an extra step unlike Apple. ¬†Certainly an example of a patent (if I am correct) that should not have been issued.

    3. ShanaC

      Another thought, some of these big tech/don’t get replaced may be pushed into having more computing attached to them for environmental/peak oil/drought reasons.

      1. LE

        No question we could save energy if devices were smarter. That initiative needs to be motivated by the government. As only one example I just bought a new water heater for the office. It *is* energy efficient. But it still maintains the water at the same temperature (120o) 24*7 and weekends etc. It’s not smart enough to know (or learn a pattern) that water isn’t being used at 3am or that maybe the water would be fine for hand washing at 105o. And the thermostat is not even in the open so I can’t even easily adjust it. And that’s me. Mr/Ms. Office manager doesn’t care. And while there are programmable thermostats and have been for home and office HVAC they are not trivial to program. About as simple as a VCR.¬†

        1. ShanaC

          *sigh* that’s the problem right there. ¬†your water heater is going to be around for something like 25 years

    4. Jc_mellinger

      “(Except for gays and that most likely led to some of the current high end adoption I would guess.)”I can assure you that the proliferation of high-end ovens/ranges was not driven by gays, ¬†



  23. Lucas Dailey

    I agree completely, but I think there is disruption opportunity in making Expensive also Smart by thinking less like a mac and more like a PC: Upgradable hardware.Cars are a great example. New cars are all drive-by-wire, computer controlled. If those computers become easier to change than your car stereo, each model of car can become a platform to allow for a more smart-phone-like hardware/software iteration cycle.Basically, the trick is to transform¬†durable¬†goods from products into platforms.”What’s driving your Prius?””Prius Core-X with the new OS3″”Sweet, me too! I love how the NFC in my phone automatically unlocks the car door when I approach it.””Yeah that makes me feel like a superhero. ¬†I love how the new OS optimizes¬†acceleration for each individual street¬†based on the lights and traffic.””Yeah, I’ve definitely seen my¬†mileage¬†increase.”

  24. Aaron Klein

    I think this is pretty dead on. The only friction I’ve seen with this model is the fact that our small devices are effectively locked up while they airplay.If I start a movie for my kids using my phone, what happens if my wife asks me to run to the store?Convergence creates some interesting multitasking and multiple user problems that will have to be overcome.

    1. Mark Essel

      The future solutions: Air swap it to your wife’s phone, a home system/tablet, or a remote service host.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Yep, I totally agree. Air swapping it to another device is clearly the solution.We put a Mac Mini on our TV, and that kind of convergence poses some interesting challenges for my wife: namely kids walking between her and the TV and competition for who gets to use the screen.All of these are solvable challenges but it involves air swapping more than just content…think apps and documents too.

  25. Mr. Majani

    Cheap is almost always disruptive.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. i love cheap.

  26. David Semeria

    I still can’t understand why makers of “expensive” hardware don’t take a plugin or modular approach….A screen is just a screen, regardless of how big it is, or the underlying tech.Why don’t these screens come with interface modules so I can upgrade the sw/hw capabilities without buying a new screen?I understand the built-in-obsolescence theory, so widely practiced by the car industry, but it doesn’t make sense with electronic devices…Sell me the screen cheap, and give me an upgrade path via licensed modules.Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    1. Mark Essel

      Might be tough with pixels/color depth/resolution but certainly with anything software based or memory modular is a clear path to reusability.

      1. David Semeria

        Good point Mark, but that, in theory, is what the modules would do – provide backwards¬†compatibility.I just bought the kids an xbox-kinect for xmas, turns out it’s not compatible with our TV, so I’m now going to have to buy an external¬†adapter. That works for input signals, but if it had been something more protocol-based I would have had to buy a new TV…That isn’t good…

      2. Aaron Klein

        But that’s what we do today in the computer and mobile device world. The atoms are the atoms and the electrons are the electrons and we don’t always have to upgrade the atoms to get new electrons.

        1. David Semeria

          Aaron, you outdid yourself there :)What does “The atoms are the atoms and the electrons are the electrons and we don’t always have to upgrade the atoms to get new electrons” actually mean?Just (half) kidding, but I’ve got no freaking idea what you’re talking about…

          1. Mark Essel

            Taking a whack at it, the structure provides a base, and all the upgrades are software. With the rise of 3D printing I can imagine a day when everything is malleable, where everything is upgradeable, and nearly everything is recyclable.

          2. David Semeria

            You’re braver than me, Mark :)But I like your vision, atoms as being re-arrangeable through software (to paraphrase) is a¬†powerful¬†idea..

          3. Joshua M L Davis

            Mark, I look for this to happen in the next decade or so. The Economist posted an article about 3D printing some¬†months ago, but futurists have been forecasting this possibility for years now.¬†I definitely look forward to¬†printing all my static (and dumb) hardware–then inserting the appropriate internals.

          4. Aaron Klein

            Ha! Sorry, let me be less abstract.For some reason, the makers of cars and refrigerators and TVs have decided that the hardware and software are frozen upon shipping a product. When was the last time your car downloaded a software update?When I bought my MacBook Air earlier this year, I wasn’t stuck with OS X Snow Leopard forever. Lion came out, I upgraded and got new capabilities.So back to the original point: if I need more pixels on my TV, then I upgrade it. But I shouldn’t have to buy a new TV to upgrade what it can do with software.

          5. David Semeria

            In which case we are perfectly aligned Aaron!All that is needed is to provide our TVs / fridges / whatever with a way of downloading new ways of interfacing with the underlying hardware.

          6. Aaron Klein

            That, and the manufacturers need to realize that they are not software companies and either adopt Android, or do a deal with Apple to make the iRefrigerator.

          7. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          8. Aaron Klein

            I’m talking about the kind of upgrades that can make my car do cool new stuff. Voice control, twitter integration, reading my text messages and emails, etc.

    2. ShanaC

      modular is hard to upsell. so they aren’t treated as modular units.

    3. Sebastian Andreatta

      A lot of appliances already are semi – modular – the control boards are pretty much all that is changed when your maytag washer or thermidor oven dies – the problem though is that these cheap modules cost $500 – way too expensive for what they are. ¬†manufacturers see this as a revenue source give that the average appliance life has dropped over the past 30 years. ¬†Cheap components don’t just make the appliance cheap, it also guarantees you have to replace it in 7 to 10 yrs. ¬†¬†They’ll only be forced to go with truly smart and easily upgradeable intelligence when start up business start deploying products with this embedded – like the recent Palo Alto Thermostat start up (forgot the name) that’s got a wifi embedded temp controller with an iPhone app to control it. ¬†Until then we’ll have to keep looking at Cisco slides showing refrigerators with embedded monitors running Cisco device OS. ¬†I’m sure we’ll all love having to have a cisco certified IT guy coming over to fix your subzero….

      1. David Semeria

        Bingo!If I could buy a fridge that I know I could upgrade to be wifi compatible in the future, then I would buy it now rather than waiting for one with built-in wifi compatability.

        1. Tom

          The history on buying things that a consumer electronics or even a software company promises will be upgraded “down the road” is terrible. Aren’t the RIM PlayBook customers still waiting for standalone native email support?



        1. fredwilson

          i like that vision of the 30 year dumb device. i hope it comes to fruition

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          2. JamesHRH

            Disqus disonnect.

          3. JamesHRH


          4. PhilipSugar

            It happen people not like to pay. Like fancy features not dumb heavy compressor on bottom.

          5. HNReader

            It’s hard. Try going to a CES- everything there is crap. Most of the current big CE manufacturers struggle just to keep up.

          6. Tristan Louis

            Bottom line is people don’t generally pay extra for quality. One could argue that SubZero is a brand that sells restaurant refrigerators into the consumer space but the truth is that they only LOOK like the ones you find in restaurants.¬†One of the challenges I found when looking for these is that it appears restaurant equipment has a different set of requirements from home equipment: for example, you don’t have to worry about ovens/stoves getting overly hot or refrigerators eating up too much power. Those things are more hidden requirements that generally keep this stuff form homes.

          7. PhilipSugar

            Here it is. ¬†Look at these restaurant fridges. ¬†Dumb. But built like you can’t believe. ¬†Got these after having the “smart”¬†¬†ones. ¬†Those were built like shit.

          8. FAKE GRIMLOCK


        2. JamesHRH

          I posted in the last few weeks about a 5 year old fridge being deemed ‘disposable’ by Calgary’s largest appliance retailer – quality outfit.The idea that metal in that amount would be obsolete in that time frame is unsustainable.Blow the froth of a cold one for GRIM – he has it right again!

    4. LE

      “I still can’t understand why makers of “expensive” hardware don’t take a plugin or modular approach….””Sell me the screen cheap, and give me an upgrade path via licensed modules.”Data transfer speeds and interface standards are always evolving and changing. It’s not static like a wall outlet which is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago.

    5. William Mougayar

      These old devices can’t take any input from the outside that changes their behavior. At best they will output something. They are still dumb, even with an AUX.¬†

      1. awaldstein

        You buy a chunk of glass today. Forget the built in apps. Just plug in your ethernet cable and run everything from the net through AppleTV or Boxee or Hulu or whatever.I want the glass dumb. It’s just a display.You seem to be wanting something else?

        1. William Mougayar

          I agree with your example, but I was addressing David’s early premise about really old devices. My Sub-Zero fridge or Miele washer/dryer wouldn’t know what an Ethernet cable is if it hit them in the face.The one device I want more transparency from is my Volvo where all diagnostics are apparently electronic now. So, I take it to the shop for service and they give me a $400 bill because the “computer in Sweden” told them to do whatever, but they can’t tell me what it was. I want that freggin computer report- why can’t I have it. Now I’m ranting about Volvo because it’s an example of a dumb expensive device. Their reason for not providing wi-fi in their waiting room is because they are continuously uploading and downloading large amounts of data for diagnostic codes and fixes to the cars. So, if a new software update has fixed my alignment problem, why are they still charging $110/hr for 4 hours of work while they were waiting for that download.

          1. David Semeria

            I’m sorry about your car William, but my point was more along the lines of: I would buy new household appliances now if I could be sure I had a flexibile upgrade path, rather than choosing the “perfect” moment (which, obviously, doesn’t exist) to buy-into any given new technology or protocol..

          2. William Mougayar

            Agreed with your point. I was just ranting about the car thing, because I don’t like to get ripped off like that. Volvo sells you on safety first, but I had no idea their service sucked.

          3. Maurice Walshe

            ah how “exactly” would you “upgrade” a fridge or a “cooker” in any “meaningfull” way and would you¬† have the legaly required certifications to do so – HVAC and Refrigeration does require you to have certifications.Does the average person want to get up to speed with the IEE wiring regs 16th edition ūüôā

          4. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          5. William Mougayar

            Would love to have it. Send me an email :)Thanks

          6. awaldstein

            That clarifies, thanks William.The flat screen TV, not the car, is the place to focus.The most valuable real estate in the world is the 6 feet between the couch and the TV in every living room on the planet.Figure out how to cross that chasm and the world is your oyster.

          7. NY_Commenter

            every modern car has an “OBD” (On-Board Diagnostics)’s a handheld device for $30:…here’s one that connects to an iOS device:…they can get pricier (more display options, longer cables, fancier carrying cases, wireless) and I’m sure there is an android version out there.¬†Open the hood. Plug it in, google the codes generated (search: “volvo diagnostic codes”) or buy a handbook to keep in the car, and you’ll know the issue just as easily as the dealer.Talk about universal and dumb, too. A $30 reader plugs into ANY modern vehicle, from a Kia to a Maybach, and all you have to do is look up the codes to find out if a sensor is out, or if simply a blown fuse, etc.



      1. Narg

        There are over 40,000 deaths already from car accidents.¬† And that’s WITHOUT technology, mostly from idiot human mistakes.¬† Technology has saved more lives than ever before.¬† You need to grow a set…

    7. MangoCat

      Some “screen driving hardware” is coming with a 4-100 VESA mount these days, so if you use your monitor stand instead of a wall mount, you can mount the hardware to the back of the monitor.Of course, in 5 years, you’ll be able to replace that $150 24″ LED backlit 1080p you just bought on Black Friday with a 36″ 4K OLED for $125- not sure if you’ll really want to keep your clunker monitor around at that point.BTW, I’ve got a VGA input 17″ LCD flat panel for sale, cheap.

  27. Mark Essel

    comment moved to its proper home.

    1. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Cool – ditto, Mark!Sounds a great vacation – Helen loves it out there, she went often with work in her previous life (no such perks now as a teacher, lol!). Enjoy!Bitterly cold, wet, windy, and dark, here ūüôĀ

  28. LE

    I recently purchased a relatively smart alarm system (Elk M1 panel)…¬†that allows you to control by iphone or android using “ekeypad” software.¬†…¬†…With this device you can turn the alarm and zones on and off and you can be notified by email or SMS when a zone is violated or some other even happens. (You can be notified when the front door opens or a room is entered and it’s fully programmable so you can do this all the time or only during certain hours.) And it ties in to home automation as expected (you can buy modules and control lights and appliances etc).¬†I purchased to avoid monthly monitoring charges and false alarms. I can be notified right on my iphone – it doesn’t have to go to a central station. The payback as far as monitoring savings will be about 2 years I’m guessing. ¬†…

  29. Jason

    What you’re saying may be true, but if/when Apple TV does comes to market and succeeds, once again the expensive device makers will follow suit. It’s almost frustrating that so few companies are taking the risk to innovate in such a way.

  30. PhilipSugar

    Really good post. ¬†I don’t know if I’d say dumb, because people take that the wrong way. ¬†I think I would say simple.I¬†was actually kind of thinking about this morning. ¬†It was a beautiful day on the Chesapeake Bay so I took my boat out with a couple of buddies.The expensive part is the one ton diesel engine sitting in the middle and the tons of fiberglass surrounding it. One guy commented boy these Chesapeake Deadrise’s are just dead simple. ¬†They are. ¬†Compared to a boat that is all tarted up with electronics they are basic. That is why mine is still in the water.However the tow boat capitan (always good to have that guy as a friend) who happened to be at the helm laughed and showed the apps he was running on his iPhone and said “who cares???? ¬†I love it”So my point is not to look down at those expensive items its, that they should be happy not putting in all of the “smart” stuff.

    1. LE

      “Chesapeake Deadrise’s are just dead simple. ¬†They are. ¬†Compared to a boat that is all tarted up with electronics they are basic.”And because they are so mechanical many times you can get them running in a pinch when they shut down.¬† I kept my boat so long I just turned the title over to the dealer instead of paying storage.

    2. fredwilson

      it was a beautiful day in NYC too. very sunny and warm for early december

  31. goldwerger

    Love this post Fred. A great case in point is digital audio.For example, in-car delivery will be driven in my opinion by content publishers, mobile app developers, and emerging intermediation layers. Put differently, the car manufacturers are the hardware layer into which the smart applications layer connects to.Another example is TV streaming of internet radio. The hardware enables, but here too content publishers and intermediation layers connect to it and drive the applications.

    1. fredwilson

      this is a very big plus for streaming of all types

      1. goldwerger

        One of the biggest market opportunities… @fredwilson

  32. kidmercury

    i’m not sure i fully understand this post. i am interpreting it as bearish for apple making a full on tv set (not just a set top box). is this post sort of contrary to the apple approach? is this a fragmented vs integrated dichotomy being presented?i think it is a matter of degree regarding how modular the various devices in our world will be. i do favor a centralized design such as apple and amazon. for instance, i can see a world in which amazon makes appliances and sells them to you, as well as your tablet and smartphone. via AWS they may have the foundation for managing your power — even heat and electricity bill. google can do this too, though some might argue that google is too far on the modular side and amazon’s approach — deeper integration, less fragmentation, on top of an open source infrastructure — is more of a sweet spot. personally i tend to agree.¬†energy is a major driver in regards to the future of computing. the big cloud players here could do some seriously disruptive stuff. imagine the market cap of big oil going to the internet cloud players and trickling down to the rest of the internet sector. smart routing of energy will be needed as we face an energy crunch (which ultimately gets resolved through increase in renewables, nuclear, and the big game changer, anti-gravity).¬†i do believe that is a major part of how we get to the world beyond the nation state, though of course some degree of political will may be needed. fortunately, the degree of political will needed is declining, as we are getting closer to the point where the can cannot be kicked down the road anymore on the budgets of the various nation-states of the world. #fs

    1. fredwilson

      i’m just thinking outloud kid. i haven’t even thought about what this means for appleTV. unlike Gruber and his flock, i really could care less.

  33. James Smith

    I completely agree, Airplay was the exact reason I purchased the home amplifier I now have (pioneer¬†vsx-1021-k), playing music immediately from my iPhone or laptop without plugging in is a joy. Devices such as amplifiers had long upgrade cycles in the past, but making them “smarter” might be a great tactic to increase turnover in slow markets.

  34. Joe

    I think you don’t know what is going on in mobile development for automotive, but in automotive smart will be veeery expensive

  35. HNReader

    My X-post:The airplay rollout has not been executed well.Overall, it is successful of course. It’s a killer feature and highly popular among consumers.I believe it has been mismanaged for the following reasons.First, rollout has been incredibly slow and there is still a major dearth of airplay enabled devices. This is not due to limitations of technology. Airplay comes from a company called BridgeCo, not Apple. BridgeCo did not do a good job of building OEM relations and following through to see Airplay implementations. This is not BidgeCo’s fault, entirely. The BridgeCo team was a small (>6) executive staff in the states with an engineering team in India. While I do not know the full extent of Apple’s imposed limitations, I know they were a factor. Still, BridgeCo had an opportunity to build a robust ecosystem- instead they were focused on selling SDK’s for >$20k and walking away. I do not think they were a Silicon Valley company culturally.Apple has not taken a lead on pushing the technology as a standard at all. For the first year after Airplay’s rollout, the only A/V receivers with airplay capabilities were super high-end Denons with a pricepoint near $1k. Not consumer. For the record, I haven’t checked recently, this could still be the case. The market for 3rd party all-in-one speakers, the obvious destination for airplay technology, also developed very slowly.Fortunately, apple sells a $99 airplay antenna called the Apple TV which can plug into just about any home theater system. Within the last few months though, Apple has been pushing updates to ATV’s which has *completely destroyed the airpay experience* by locking down the format. I can no longer play downloaded video media on my non-jailbroken apple tv. Apple wants me to purchase streaming media from the Apple TV market- I don’t care. I want to play the downloaded media on my laptop on my HDTV. Crazy, I know. Apple says no.And this, of course, is the biggest fail of the Airplay rollout. Airplay is not just audio- it’s video. This feature has zero presence on 3rd party devices- possibly positioning for an Apple HDTV launch. Still, BridgeCo (now SMSC) should have pushed the tech on HDTV OEMs.While interesting, and slightly sad, none of this matters since ultimately airplay is the standard and I will continue to watch its development and buy airplay devices since there are no alternatives due to there being no other company who cares about core computing user experiences.

    1. fredwilson

      i read this over at HN. thanks for reposting it here. it’s a very good comment.

  36. Elai

    Bluetooth A2DP is Airplay for cars. You pair once, leave bluetooth on and press play on your car stereo. ¬†Video & touch mirroring will be what’s next.

    1. Aaron Klein

      I agree. The pairing process can be made much simpler and fixed, but Bluetooth has a lot of advantages over wi-fi, namely that one Bluetooth radio can be connected to multiple devices simultaneously.But ultimately, Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi should be like Ethernet vs. Token Ring. It’s just a connection layer and whatever standard wins is fine. It’s the capabilities over the connection that matter.

  37. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    I bought a new washer and dryer just the other day. ¬†It does so many new and exciting things and has all these wonderful electronic features (except being able to go up stairs and get the dirty laundry, fill its self with said laundry, then wash it, dry it, then fold the finished product and return said laundry to closet folded and clean all from an IPhone App) but the one thing it CANNOT do is wash a pair of jeans and not wring wrinkles in them when spinning, that if you do not pull the wet jeans back into shape and put them in the dryer nice and folded become permanent.Maybe my washer and dryer has a USB port to plug in my MP3¬†or maybe the touch screen has GPS capability to locate my wife and find out why she is not doing the laundry.Actually, I want someone to develop an app to monitor my pets health and then keep the data so that when the little guy is 10 years old and refuses to eat (going from 12 lbs to 8 lbs) in two weeks I am not stuck with a vet who doesn’t have a clue and a patient who is in no pain and showing nothing but his age. ¬†Since I am getting up every 2 hours to hand feed the little guy, my buddy, little jars of baby food, diced tomatoes and bananas, and his favorite, diced Vienna sausages, I would easily pay a king’s ransom for an app that would monitor his health, keep the data, and then provide links for resources or give my vet some insight….

  38. Mordy Kaplinsky

    A while back I was exploring this area as my next project and i came to the conclusion that for a startup to tackle these issues is either suicidal or extremely ambitious. ¬†Among the many considerations are:1. Buy in from multiple hardware vendors at the same time, and If you don’t have a significant hardware ecosystem there is little incentive for anyone to join. which leads to:2. Like all large companies the manufacturers of these devices like to control everything in their product, which makes them prefer to take the isolated standalone route. ¬†If you only get a single hardware partner on board you will not be viewed as having achieved market momentum but simply as an outsourced platform to that vendor.3. ¬†Funding for an undertaking of this magnitude is extremely difficult to achieve as you need immense resources to create a product to even consider getting the hardware manufacturers on board.4. The lurking shadow of Google trying to push the Android eco–system into additional devices and niches. ¬†Their announcement of AndroidAThome¬†while pretty dormant will haunt your fundraising, sales and partnership efforts.These big projects are unfortunately not the types of new companies that are being developed or funded without a quicker GoTo Market capability.

    1. fredwilson

      we have two companies that are working on ideas in this area. boxee is well known to the readers of this blog. the other company will be a surprise to everyone when they launch in the next month or so.

      1. Mordy Kaplinsky

        Fred,I look forward to hearing about your upcoming project in this space.While Boxee is an exciting product in this sector. its playing in an extremely limited part of this space. ¬†Boxee’s issues with playing with others though are an example that highlight how difficult this can be (you would know this better than me).Trying to get this to work for large hardware manufacturers where its not only an issue of business value but also a significant investment in hardware and related R&D, which makes this a significant challenge to overcome.When Android was at Redpoint Ventures they refused to fund it for these reasons. ¬†So for all its great success, the needed to be a part of Google to achieve it.I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues which I believe get in the way of the world of technology we were promised.

  39. kenberger

    There’s another important factor on why I couldn’t agree more: besides the shorter upgrade cycle, and the cost, people become very allegiant to some platforms/devices and are resistant to learning new ones.Every car company has a different, impossible to understand GPS system. I want my Garmin instead, which I already know.My boxee box and B+W Zeppelin allow me to Airplay music from an iPhone– I insist on using Android devices (sure you can airplay via doubletwist on android, but that only helps with the phone’s local files).Most high-end HDTV’s have their own internet tv channels system. I don’t want or need that since I get all of that via the boxee box, appletv, and googleTV 2.0. etc etc.

    1. fredwilson

      so true about the GPS system. i just want google maps and directions running on my car dash



    1. fredwilson

      i saw that tweet

  41. Barry Nolan

    I believe you can extend the theme of the cheap connected devices to controlling our everyday services. Be the service close (through Airplay, Wifi, NFC, Bluetooth) or far (Internet), what we will see is theses cheap devices controlling backend systems Рthe mobile will become be a service remote-control for consumers.  Companies that embrace this can unlock tremendous opportunity.  We just completed an app-service for a FI that issues re-loadable debit cards for the parents of teens/college kids Рbut reinvented every service interaction to be mobile-controllable.  The results are staggering.  But even more compelling is the power that will be in consumers hands Рwith just a gesture, the are determining their services right in the heart of backend system.  Very empowering.

  42. leonidkozhukh

    same can go for startups, fred. its the tradeoff between learning lessons organically or paving over them with money to buy higher growth.

    1. fredwilson


  43. William Mougayar

    Related to this topic, I just saw this USB Turntable that lets you rip your old LP’s into mp3 by just plugging the cable to your PC. That’s a cool example of making dumb “things” dumb-easy to become digital. ¬†…

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t want mp3s anymorei want vinyl or streams

      1. William Mougayar

        I hear you, but I’m attached to my old LP’s, yet want them mobile/digital. I was warming up to the idea of selectively transferring a few of them.

      2. Adrian Sanders

        vinyl just gets too expensive, once you go down that rabbit hole, swapping out sumiko cartridges, rolling tube amps, and all that…¬†i don’t care whether they’re mp3’s or streams, but playlists mean everything to the end of the day, if i want to hear a song, it’s probably on youtube.¬†

  44. Norman Kabir

    You have a typo in your title (“Cheap Will[l] be smart…”)

    1. fredwilson

      great catch. thanks!!

  45. phineasb

    rented a car last weekend. Got a new Ford Explorer with MSFT Sync. Started the car and a voice asked if i wanted to connect PhineasbarnesiPhone. I said yes. Typed in the pairing code and the music that i had been listening to on Spotify was streaming through the car stereo. 10 minutes later, the music faded out and I saw I had a call from my wife (sync had imported my address book too). I touched the screen to answer the call, spoke to her and when the call was over, the song faded back in from where we left off.When I was done with the car i was able to delete my phone from the device list in 3 clicks on the touch screen. Pretty slick.Lots of UI/UX problems with the product, but it did a great job making a dumb, expensive thing feel super smart — by sucking in the data from teh cheap smart thing in my pocket.

    1. fredwilson

      hmm. i wonder who has the best car dash sync offering in the auto market. i think that would highly influence my next purchase decision

      1. phineasb

        This experience made me think that if I needed a car, I would strongly consider a ford – the whole experience of the car was elevated because it was “smart” Phineas BarnesPrincipal, First Round Capital [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]> | @phineasb |<http:””>

  46. Deboprio Ghosh

    Agreed. Cheap will be smart, expensive will be dumb …. and FREE will be stupid.

    1. fredwilson

      free is only stupid if you don’t know how to monetize free. zynga and dropbox knew how to monetize free and look what they’ve done with that

      1. Deboprio Ghosh

        you are totally correct fred. as i am doing my second startup i am thinking “how do corporates react to the word free?”

  47. Jack

    I agree we need a LOW LEVEL interface to consumer electronics. ¬†A classic example is an aircon. ¬†To get anything like usable controls, you need to look near the top-of-the-range, which will most likely include all kinds of filters and circulation modes that you’re not interested in.Even then, the interface will be a simple alphanumeric LCD and buttons, not a touch interface iphone with 3D.And you’re stuck with a limited selection, and often seemingly stupid “programmes” that the manufacturer programmed. ¬†My aircon for example has a program that cools for 1 hour, then raises the set-point 2 deg.C for the rest of the program. ¬†Why? ¬†No idea, presumably you’re asleep after one hour, and the higher temp won’t wake you. ¬†But I think I’d like to design my own algorithm.For this reason, and many others, the interface needs to be low level. At the level of relays and ¬†stepper motors. ¬†The manufacturer can provide a basic control app, and some parameters to specify limits. ¬†The rest is up to you or third parties.

  48. dpgj

    “Cheap Will Be Smart. Expensive Will Be Dumb.” is pretty much the truth in selling consumer product and gaining market share. There is no explanation needed. However there is a trade-off that you cannot expect majority of the people buying cheap phone will put credit card information into the phone or buy apps with hard cash. So should developer work on cheap phone? Its not that simple.

  49. Postscapes

    The post also seems to tie in well with¬†Mike Kuniavsky’s thoughts on ‘service avatars’¬†…

  50. hypermark

    I think that there’s a basic dichotomy to the Cheap/Smart vs Expensive/Dumb debate.¬†In the area of remote control – think ‘universal remote’ for the cloud – Cheap/Smart approaches logically become ubiquitous.However, in media services and programmatic experiences, I believe that platform cultivation becomes a lot more important than raw diversity of functional attributes.As such, I think that there are a few distinct models that can be very successful in terms of platform realization.One ramification of this is that I suspect we’ll see a lot of innovation in the area of application partitioning to address a bigger footprint for the various service cases.¬†Kindle Fire is a pretty good example of a third fork forming adjacent to iOS and Android that embraces this model.

  51. Laroquod

    “Furthermore, these devices have open marketplaces for apps”Since when is a marketplace where no one can enter without permission from a single company ‘open’? Apple does not run an open marketplace by any clear-headed definition I know of.

    1. fredwilson


  52. Joseph K Antony

    Just could not read the earier postings in this thread. The pages were overlapping.Some time in very near one can expect standardised hardware components. Maybe Arduino is the harbinger of that.The other thing that one should watch out for iis innovation coming from where “low priced” (not cheap ūüôā ) products have their biggest demand -the emerging economies. Quite a bit is already happening¬† already. ( Would have posted a relevant hyperlink -but haven’t figured how to do that in Disqus).

  53. bfeld

    This is a brilliant post. It also points to the componentization of the hardware which continues to rapidly evolve as an enabling platform for the magic, which is software. Any product that has a life of greater than a year at this point is going to be running obsolete hardware, which means it can’t keep up on the software front.

    1. fredwilson

      Id be interested to hear how you grok this in terms of your HCI thesis. There must be interesting opportunities where the two come together

      1. bfeld

        HCI is all about software. If you look at the hardware involved, it is all either (a) componentized or (b) has a low price point so it’s easy to replace regularly. I spend a lot of time thinking about specifically this issue – I don’t think I use a single electronic device that I own that is more than a year old for anything beyond my car and the crap built into my house.

        1. fredwilson

          When are you in NYC next?I want you to see something related to this

          1. bfeld

            I will be there on Monday (in a week). I’ll send a separate email to coordinate.

          2. fredwilson

            VCs doing deals in the comment threads! Talk about transparency.

          3. bfeld


  54. MangoCat

    Thank you Captain obvious. ¬†I bought my car new off the lot in 1991 – granted, I’m keeping it longer than most people do, but its state of the art 10 disc CD changer in the trunk was looking a little long in the tooth 10 years ago. ¬†A docking port where the constantly evolving entertainment/information center can plug in would make a lot of sense for a long life item like a car, or a house. ¬†Hard wiring these things into the body/walls is just a formula to make your big ticket item look dated in 5 years.

    1. fredwilson

      Captain Obvious! I love that moniker. My friend Jordy calls me the master of stating the obvious

  55. Patpeterson

    I’m in total¬†agreement. Actually, I refused to pay for an iPhone adapter in my recent BMW. However, I bought a little device that let me AirPlay (Bluetooth) via the aux jack for 66 bucks… It’s not perfect, but way better than plugging a cable in the phone. The device is made by RIM… but it works with an iPhone…

    1. Timothy Meade

      Interesting, AirPlay is already being genericized and msiapplied. Bluetooth Stereo is A2DP and over a fairly dumb L2 air interface, AirPlay is DOAP over (multicast) IP.

  56. Pete Griffiths

    Great post.

  57. monsur

    Agreed, everything should be “streams” and “players”. Right now, if I want to listen to Rdio, I need to use the Rdio player interface to listen to the Rdio stream. What I want: I pay Rdio $10/month of whatever, which gives me access to the Rdio content stream. I can then play that stream on any player (my home stereo, my car, my phone, etc). This could work for audio as well as video streams. There’s still a long way to go before we get there (there would have to be agreement on the API interface), but I’m hopeful we’re moving in that direction.

  58. Narg

    “will”???¬† How about “always has been!” I guess as Apple centric as this reporter is, I guess he just doesn’t get it.

    1. fredwilson

      good point

  59. paramendra

    Add a smart layer on top and you don’t have to wait for an upgrade to the entire device.¬†

  60. monsur

    Oh and it all needs to talk to for continuous logging of my listening history

  61. esqmarty

    My HP printer (free with purchase of computer) tells me in advance when the ink supply is low.¬† My $17,000 home heating system’s method of telling me that it is out of oil is to stop working.

  62. Deborah Doiley

    I never really thought that it (cheap being smart, expensive will be dumb) will happen but you do have a point. Sometimes, the best and those with sense technology come in cheap.

  63. Adam Feldman

    The airplay to stereo bit really resonates. It seems crucial for expensive/slow refresh products to open themselves up to quickly evolving ones through APIs and the standards mentioned above.I guess it comes down to innovation being directly correlated with low price and short refresh cycles. Anyone who makes big, expensive hardware should allow people to innovate on top of their platform. You could be lauded for your foresight like BMW was when they were the first car company to allow for iPod integration. The devices kept getting bigger, better, cheaper, and more popular yet BMW’s product has more or less stayed the same yet has been able to take advantage of the iPod’s success.The same holds true for all of the set top boxes like Boxee, Xbox, Google TV, Apple TV, and Roku. But instead of allowing a high degree of integration, these newcomers to the market are making companies like Comcast look stupid with their terrible UI.Also consider the approach of Nest. Great, innovative product that more or less forced its way in by planning for every form of interconnectivity with every major brand of heating/cooling equiptment. And now they’re making established players look terrible.I guess the message to the makers of slow and expensive: don’t fight it.

  64. Jason Howard

    I think everything can not considerred absolutely, some expensive thing will be also very good.

  65. paydaymart

    “Cheap Will Be Smart. Expensive Will Be Dumb”good words.¬†if I may¬†I’ll quote¬†you

  66. Healy Jones

    The military has been doing this for years. Sure the nuclear sub is 15 years old, but the targeting system, sonar system, weapons, etc are up to date. Same for fighter jets, air craft carriers, etc.

  67. FossFolks

    At least your car HAS an aux jack. ¬†One of ours (my wife and I) doesn’t.

    1. William Mougayar

      There is wireless device you hook to your visor, and it locks your iPhone/iPod to an FM station. But the quality isn’t the same as a direct AUX.

  68. FK

    I always wondered what car you drove. My guess is that you have an old 7 Series (pre-2011 model). Upgrade to the new one (2011) with premium sound package¬†and you’ll see the magic of playing music over the air. There is a fat hard-disk, which you might never use.¬†

  69. Nathan Zaru

    I’m right now working on a dumb device for the car audio system as you describe, and a mobile app to go along with it.