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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 14:47 GMT
Tapping into a digital future
Roberto Belo
BBC News website technology reporter

In the near future we will probably have our TV and microwave talking to each other and may even be able to use our mobile to turn on the lights at home.

TV set at Toshiba Home in London
TV sets could become the centre of future digital homes
But what is described as digital convergence will only take off if these gadgets are easy to use and have mass appeal, say industry figures.

Consumer electronic and computer companies need to understand how people would use all hi-tech gear.

These ideas are now filtering through to the people making the decisions about new technology, as reflected at a roundtable discussion of industry figures in London last week, organised by Toshiba.

In tune with consumers

For a new technology to succeed, it has to appeal to a wide audience, who may not be au fait with all the latest gadgets.

Even fashion conscious products like Apple's iPod music player, the icon of digital music on the move, are still far more difficult to use than your old transistor radio.

Alan Thompson, Toshiba Information Systems UK
The most converged devices we are working on at the moment are the mobile phones
Alan Thompson, Toshiba
"From a technology point of view, you can push innovation and people to pick up a digital lifestyle; but the other part of it is going to be a natural phenomena," said Adrian Criddle, country manager for Intel UK.

"What concerns me is that a lot of people who hear about digital music players don't understand that, at the moment, you actually need a PC to get the content."

One way to sort this out is to provide better information and let people try out new devices for themselves.

This is where High Street retailers can play a role, by showcasing new equipment to large numbers of consumers.

Mobile integration

The integration of digital devices is already happening.

What is the centre of the digital home? Is it going to be a set top box, a TV, a PC? That is still being mapped out
Adrian Criddle, Intel
"The most converged devices we are working on at the moment are the mobile phones," said Alan Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Toshiba Information Systems UK.

The take-up of third generation (3G) mobile phones, together with wireless technologies like wi-fi and Wimax, also seem to show the way forward.

"Using the wireless technology to link all these devices is going to be key," said Dave Hughes, BT technology supremo.

Future around the corner

The promise of home appliances connected with each other, and with the outside world through the internet, may be a common feature in a couple of years.

And, instead of using a keyboard or picking through complicated menus, these devices may be controlled via speech.

"What is the centre of the digital home? Is it going to be a set top box, a TV, a PC?" asked Intel's Adrian Criddle.

"That is still being mapped out."

"I think we have realised that ease of use and simplification is absolutely critical to take mass market adoption of new technologies."

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