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.