Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday Think Tank

I want to expand on an idea that I touched on in my last post... I think we've only scratched the surface of the possibilities for technology in multifamily communities, primarily because these buildings have never truly been considered as a separate, unique market from single-family homes. Let me explain.

Don't get me wrong... developers of luxury condos and apartments have gone to great efforts to improve the technology systems that go into their buildings, both to increase appeal to potential residents and to improve operational efficiencies. These include access control systems, video surveillance, burglar alarms, intercoms, posh lounges and theater rooms, business centers, "state-of-the-art" exercise facilities, and so on. Features such as these are common today in most newer communities.

:: New Possibilities

There still seems to be a real lack of creativity when it comes to technology services that are truly designed specifically for the urban, high-rise lifestyle. For now, let's just focus on what the audio and video services could look like at a property that's optimized for community connectivity. (Communectivity, perhaps...?)

For example, I've mentioned previously about how so many people can't live without their TiVo. Verizon has introduced a multi-room DVR that will give users the opportunity to access saved shows, as well as music and photos, from anywhere in their home. Great news for the 4-bedroom house in the suburbs... but if it's for my studio in the city, then who really cares? Let's take that idea a step further though, and apply it more specifically to a multifamily environment. Let me access my personal content in the clubhouse lounge or theater room, and now we're talking. My 42" plasma is great for watching Jack Bauer on 24, unless I can watch those same saved programs with some friends on the six-foot screen downstairs! The network is already there - one screen to enter my unit and a PIN number, and there are my shows. And if people start leaving and I need to get some work done back upstairs... no problem, I hit pause and finish the episode later from the comfort of my own couch. Seems simple enough, but that's not how service providers, or property owners, think... yet.

But I'm not a huge TV buff... music is my thing. Whether it's from my iPod or Pandora, I like being able to access my music when I want it. I recently saw a video profiling a high-rise in mid-town Atlanta that has CD/DVD players at each piece of equipment in the fitness center, so residents can bring their own discs to watch. This makes no sense to me, because I would guess that most residents are not going to carry a case of DVDs or music down to the gym. Heck, I don't even like having to bring my keys! So why shouldn't a resident be able to access their personal music and playlists from the fitness center, or the lounge, or at the pool? These are just a few examples - properties today have robust networks that could enable a lot of great new services with only a little creativity and a user-friendly interface.

:: Any Drawbacks?
I suppose that most content producers, not surprisingly, would contend that this would somehow go beyond the user's allowed usage rights. I agree that digital rights is a issue that needs to be reasonably addressed, but content that I purchase or select, that is only accessible at my command, seems like it should pass muster. We'll have to see how things play out with Cablevision's network DVR, although I think distributing content throughout a building is significantly different than content that is stored on a service provider's centralized servers. (Engadget, Multichannel News)

The greatest obstacle that I see is that there would be a perception that there is a lack of demand for these types of capabilities. I would argue that services like these will become a regular part of life for the typical 20-something urbanite. They already understand the capabilities that today's electronics enable, and their homes should be places that allow them to embrace the lifestyle of their choice.

So what else is possible? What happens when we throw wireless in the mix? Bluetooth? Social networking? Building amenities could get a lot more interesting, don't you think?

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