IT SEEMS THAT every other week The INQUIRER reports yet another alliance being formed to create products for the fabled Internet of Things (IoT).
At the moment, there are so many proprietary systems that the future of the truly connected home is going to come down to who blinks first.
To get some insight into how to tackle the problem, we took a look at a brand in the midst of a reinvention, at the start of its journey towards being a connected home company.
Goodmans Industries (you can call it Goodmans, it's very friendly) has been producing electronics for over 80 years. For the past 20 years, it has been one of the leading names in set-top boxes, those anonymous monoliths that sit under your TV.
Currently owned by Harvard International, which is turn owned by the Chinese Chengdu Geeya Technology Co, the brand is still a familiar sight, but mostly on supermarket shelves where it offered a range of low-cost rebadged products, from set-top boxes to headphones.
However, like many companies at the moment, Goodmans faced a problem. Its reputation was not bad - it has, after all, remained a household name for nearly a century - but with customer expectations rising as technology advanced, the days of the reliable but ultimately pedestrian portable speaker had to be numbered. Let's face it, everyone's doing that now.
Additionally, throwing so much effort into set-top boxes, which do nothing to reinforce the brand standing, (do you know what brand your Sky box is? Thought not) left Goodmans at a crossroads. A huge portfolio of products on the brink of a whole new era.
But what does it take to differentiate your product in the IoT era? Ben Davies is the head of Rodd Design, the product design company that Harvard brought in to reinvent the Goodmans brand and which already boasts Panasonic, Kenwood, Motorola and Philips among its successes.
"A lot of what we do is about avoiding the trap of pushing technology onto consumers," he explains. "As a result, Goodmans had the brave ambition to do less, but do it better."
The result of this was a slashed portfolio of new products, based around audio, including the Rocka DAB radio and the Aspect Soundbar, which is designed to lie horizontally or as a tower, adjusting the sound footprint accordingly.
But the next stage involves uncharted territory. Where next for the brand in an age where everything needs to talk to everything else?
For Goodmans, the answer came at this year's CES with the arrival of Qualcomm's AllPlay. Described by the company as "a superior WiFi system-on-a-chip with flexible I/O architecture", the platform provides a simple, proven way in to the IoT, while simultaneously creating an alliance with other brands using it, including Panasonic and Medion.
As Harvard's consumer electronics director Christian Corney explains: "To us that's really important because we don't kid ourselves that we're powerful enough to create a bespoke solution and expect people to fill their houses with Goodmans products because they're the only ones that can talk to each other.
"We want to find products that fit into that ecosystem and that don't push people off in different directions when they reach a dead end of connectivity."
Corney has been one of the key architects of the brand reinvention. He believes that the future of the brand in the brave new world is about "careful consideration of how the customer interacts with the product". It's a topic we will return to later.
But Goodmans remains committed to being a value brand. The danger of creating a compatible ecosystem like Allplay is that there will be inevitable comparisons between items in the range.
Davies explains: "Connected is a very big part of the picture for the new brand, but they make no bones about where their products are priced.
"If you're a bit more budget sensitive you can pay the price for crap technology very often, whereas Goodmans is trying to create an ecosystem where people have good experiences."
Davies talks about the idea of "beautiful simplicity" being key to the experience. "It would be very easy to jump on the whole IoT bandwagon and flood the market with stuff," he explains. But the firm has concentrated on "statement pieces" that bring simplicity and style.
Simplicity is another key element of the way Goodmans approaches the IoT opportunity. For many reading this article, the idea of syncing multiroom systems to DLNA servers via 802.11ac may seem everyday, but the fact is that it isn't. For most people it's still mindbogglingly complicated.
The Aspect, for example, has just 12 buttons on the remote, and instead of being anonymous, they're bright and colour coded. Logical even. The Bluetooth button is blue. Press it, you're in Bluetooth mode. Touch the device to the NFC pad on the speaker, you're connected. That's it.
Anyone who has ever had to explain: "If you want to watch the TV through it, you need to press the Input button five times and then Enter," can feel relieved that in this case, you can just say: "Press yellow".
It seems obvious, but the IT industry is in the eye of a storm. That means we're the calm with chaos surrounding us. And for anyone caught in that storm, the opportunity to just 'press yellow' is going to mean the difference between joining the revolution and staying on the sidelines.
"You'll see a lot of less," says Davies. "Pared back and iconic and emphasised to tell you what's what."
Corney jokes: "For us it was about how we create a product with Goodmans DNA running through it when it's essentially a bar that sits under your telly," harking back to the era of set-top boxes.
"But we decided that we didn't want our IoT products to be the same old off-the-shelf product that you could buy under a no-name brand. We want to be able to solve a problem."
The message here is simple. The IoT presents a danger. At the moment everyone seems to be rushing out connected soundbars, wearables and strange curios to take advantage without really thinking through the use case, the value and quite often the quality.
"Our consumers are not the early adopters," says Corney. "Early adopters are the ones who forgive there being loads of problems, or too many features, or having to get to page 25 in the instruction book before you find how to turn it on. Our customers aren't interested in that."
The important thing to remember here is that Goodmans is a mass market brand. Its customers are most people. And if you want to make money from the IoT you need to realise that, although the possibilities are huge, it needs to come in baby steps.
Corney adds: "If you blind people with science, they won't just stop believing in our brand, they'll take it back."
Instead, the Goodmans-Rodd partnership preaches that less is more. Concentrating on getting the 'statement' products right can lead to a less cluttered product with a less cluttered strategy.
That isn't to say that Goodmans is going to stay in this stripped down form. Using the learnings from these early products, it plans to bring the philosophy to everything from communications tools to health.
But one step at a time. For now, if you want to reach the people, it seems that the Goodmans advice would be to do less. But do it better. µ
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