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August 31, 2004

Microsoft Home

Microsoft for a while has maintained a "model home" in one of the buildings on campus. It's a space inside one of the buildings that is configured to look like a house with various different rooms, complete with furniture, paintings, etc. And of course the whole thing is tricked out with all the computer bling bling you can think of.

The goal is to demonstrate current and future technology in a more natural setting. For example Microsoft sometimes brings in people off the street to test early versions of its products; when testing software that would normally be used in the living room (the thinking goes), it's best to have a fake living room set up. When a reporter from Wired magazine was shown a demo of Microsoft Interactive Television offering back in 1995, it was in the a previous incarnation of the Microsoft Home.

(I worked on that product, and I can testify that the demo in question was nothing more than a Visual Basic hack, which had nothing to do with the product we were building. But show it on a big-screen TV in the Microsoft home, and it looks convincing).

The internal Microsoft website for the MS Home has a virtual tour, which shows a picture of each "room" along with spacy quotes like "Community can be found through content" and "Experiences will bring together all information available on the network" and "Smart Devices connected to other smart devices can create a one touch solution consolidating tasks that might otherwise be a friction point with consumers". If you ever happen to have a job at Microsoft, check it out.

That Wired article (which remains, according to their search, the only one in the magazine that ever used the word "yurt"), contains the following, which remains the most profound thing I have ever read about interactive television, and predicts why it will never catch on:

In fact, Microsoft seems to be over-intellectualizing TV, in the hope that the software giant can break 50 years of viewing habits and change why people watch. "People have a money budget and a time budget," begins Thomas Wong, Microsoft's advanced consumer technology research manager. "And people are willing to pay to save time," he adds. Thus, he says, they will use interactive TV to rent movies; shop for food, clothing, and household items; attend college and self-improvement classes; and get all kinds of information - all without having to leave their couch for time-consuming trips. That, he says, is what people in focus groups and surveys say they'll do.

I don't think so. The reality, it seems after my first two expeditions into interactive TV land, is that people don't care very much about saving time when they turn on the tube. The average American watches between four and five hours every day, according to Nielsen statistics. If they were so pressed for time, where did they get these extra hours in the first place?

Posted by AdamBa at August 31, 2004 10:32 PM