In the 1980's GM came out with a campaign to revitalize their Oldsmobile brand with the slogan "This Is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile" Well this is about the next generation of consumer electronics which are not your father's light timer. And this is not your father's garage door opener, I know because it was my father's light timer and garage door opener. He designed both and as much as these consumer devices made our lives easier, they are what I name Consumer Electronics "Release 1.0."
My blog and related companies are dedicated to the next generation, Consumer Electronics 2.0 or CE20 for short.
My dad, Richard Goldstein pictured here shortly after college, was born in 1923. He is an electronics engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. He is considered the "father" of the residential garage door opener. In 1955
he formed Perma-Power Co. with a fellow Northwestern University engineering alum. In the mid-60's he developed the first radio controlled garage door openers and his company designed and manufactured the original Sears Craftsman Garage Door opener. It became Sears' most successful appliance category. Today seven out of ten times someone presses the remote to open their garage door, they do so on a controller originally designed by my father. Here is one of his door opener patents. When the Sears business grew so fast and became too big for their 400 person factory in Chicago to handle, he sold the company to Chamberlain (history here).
My dad then went on to design the first processor controlled wall switch light timer. Tens of millions of these "Night Sentry" light timers were also sold (now an Intermatic product). With its easy-to-use interface such as a self-learning mode and optional manual operation, it was one of the first processor-based timers people actually widely used.
You may have a Chamberlain "Lift-Master" door opener or a "Night-Sentry" light timer. Most homes in the US do. (And pretty good product names for an engineer to come up with.) These were well designed products and widely adopted. These devices came with the features and functions hardwired into the product from the factory and we consumers got what people like my dad thought was the best compromise of functionality, technology and cost. If you wanted something else, you waited for another version to come out or bought a competitor. Most of us adjusted to the products as they came, and they were good enough. But we could not make these devices operate any differently than how my dad and his peers envisioned them to work. That is how it has been for consumer electronics since the industry began over 50 years ago, what I call Consumer Electronics Release Version 1.0.
If you are like me, you are now pretty comfortable using your personal computer. You can navigate the web, create, print and send documents; maybe create spreadsheets and presentations. Maybe a lot of other stuff. I enjoy personalizing my computer. I put my icons right were I want them. I like to use Webshots and have my screen background change everyday to reflect what the outside world looks like as the seasons change, which comforts me on those days when all I do is work on the computer. Even so, I hate setting the timer on my coffee maker. Some people like me consider the programmable thermostat the equivalent of the old VCR flashing 12:00 since it is always on "over-ride" and never actually running a program.
Maybe you got a new smartphone recently. Santa brought me my first iPhone for Christmas 2009, and I am thrilled. Its the first iThing I ever owned. I can get all the apps I want, put them anywhere I want on my iPhone screen, add my music, and do lots and lots of personal things. I even use it for my alarm at night. It is much easier to set the alarm on my iPhone than my bedside clock.
And why is it easier to set my iPhone alarm than my clock radio? Because my clock radio is CE1.0 with a simple, but clunky user interface. And each clock radio I have ever used, either mine, my wife's, or at a hotel, are all little different. They make ME figure THEM out.That's CE1.0--it is what it is. Why can't I simply send the alarm setting from my iPhone to my bedside alarm clock? Maybe I want to turn my iPhone off at night. Maybe I want to run another app on it, maybe I want to dock my phone to charge in my kitchen. Maybe after I left the house early some morning I want to remind my wife to get up even though she turned her phone off, and do so by sending a tweet to buzz her beside alarm clock.
If you are like me you may find yourself frequently asking questions like these. Why can't I just easily do this or control that. Why can't I get it to act differently or do what I want? These questions are the modern version of the old "if they could put a man on the moon, why can't they ___________." If you find yourself asking this, you are ready for CE2.0. Don't worry, after all this time that we have been waiting on the promise of easy, smart, wireless, powerful, consumer electronics, it is actually finally upon us. There will be smart gadgets everywhere, ones you will easily configure and personalize. I am helping to see to that.
The personal computer revolution started out simply by replacing our typewriters and calculators. When the PC first came out I heard people say: "What do you need that for! It sure is an expensive typewriter." Then the PC went on to transform the way we do everything, almost everything. Everything except about a thousand things we do now with CE1.0 devices like set our light timers, alarm clocks and open our garage doors. And CE1.0 devices don't do about a million other things that could be fun or make our lives easier and more satisfying that will soon be possible.
Like my PC, most of the apps on my shiny new iPhone are captive to doing things only on the phone, in cyberspace, not in real space. CE2.0 will free our apps to go out and play with the rest of our world. CE2.0 devices may start out by only replacing our garage door openers and light timers, but they will then go on to change how we interact with our physical world just as surely and completely as the PC changed our digital world. CE2.0--this is not your father's light timer.