Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Exactly The Onion: DLNA Responds to Apple TV

Moments after Steve Jobs announced the new Apple TV yesterday, I sent out a status update that said…

"Time to pre-order the new Apple TV. DLNA needs to worry, right freakin' now. And I'm a HUGE DLNA fan."

I made it nearly an entire minute before my phone rang; that call was shortly interrupted by another, followed by a slew of e-mails, tweets, and Facebook comments.

Pretty much everyone wanted to know, what the heck did I mean? The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the best response DLNA could make is in the form of a press release. So, here we go--the release *I* might write if I were in a position to do so…

DLNA Welcomes Apple to the Living Room

Congratulates Apple on Decision to Enable Content Enjoyment in a Social Setting

Portland, OR -- September 2, 2010 -- The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) today welcomes the Apple ecosystem to the digital living room. By the end of September 2010, Apple users will be able to enjoy their photos, video, and music in a social setting, on the ideal display for social interaction--the television, rather than the small screen setting of iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Steve, we know you've been busy, but what took you so long?

Since its founding in 2003, more than 7,500 products have been DLNA Certified®, giving consumers the interoperability they need within a full range of products including digital cameras, PCs and laptops, printers and televisions. Such a wide range of products means that by 2012, more than a billion DLNA devices will have shipped, according to ABI Research. Apple's recognition that consumers enjoy content in a twelve foot setting is an important milestone for our industry. The current two-foot user interface where Apple users typically consume content is ideal for touch screen devices, particularly when sharing photos of grandchildren with fellow airplane travelers, blaring music at inappropriate volume on trains, and nodding one's head at a visual voice mail message.

However, the explosion in social networking enabled by high-powered mobile platforms such as the iPhone has created the dichotomy that in a world of oversharing, the actual consumption of content has never been more solitary. When silver halide still played a part in preserving memories, doing so meant to capture, to share, and to enjoy--together. Unfortunately, as first-world economies have morphed into always-on, all-digital lifestyles, the actual act of enjoying shared memories in a social environment has gone the way of Jarts and the Oldsmobile.

Today, content is most often consumed by individuals on mobile devices; DLNA members Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson shipped a combined 1.21 billion mobile phones worldwide in 2009, so we understand that mobile is a huge market for capture and consumption. But, one of the big challenges the entire consumer electronics industry continues to face is how to keep people truly connected in an ever-more-connected world, a world where a family of five can sit around a dinner table and avoid face-to-face conversation, courtesy of the very devices that our members ship in tremendous volumes.

We're certainly not against shared virtual enjoyment of content--Facebook has revolutionized the lives of technology users in a manner not seen since Google, and before that, well, Apple. But, there's more to life than photos that spend their lives locked up in a Facebook account, even if tens of millions of the cameras taking those photos are produced by our members. When we started DLNA in 2003, we believed that the right way to enable consumers to enjoy their content was in a connected environment; that's even more true today. Technologies like high-speed wireless, network-attached storage, and high-resolution HD video cameras one can shove in a pocket largely didn't exist seven years ago; if they did, they were the exclusive domain of the earliest of early adopters, at price points out of reach for all but the ultra-affluent, and at a technology integration cost only a geek could love.

We set out to change that, to get ahead of the technology curve, to standardize in a multi-vendor environment all the things that made this type of content sharing a five- or six-figure investment. In 2003, a number of us got together and chose to think different. What that's meant over the last seven years is a lot of heavy lifting, an enormous amount of time and investment, to ensure that consumers are able to connect and enjoy their content in a multi-vendor environment, one where content can be captured, stored, shipped, and consumed. Consumers buying DLNA Certified® devices can be confident they're purchasing solutions that work together and can be networked, regardless of manufacturer. That's why more than 200 companies have joined DLNA, and continue to collaborate to ensure that our products will work together to deliver content sharing which our users can enjoy.

That type of shared, truly shared, content enjoyment was challenging for Apple users until yesterday's announcement. As Apple mentioned, Apple TV has been little more than a hobby since its introduction in 2006. The new Apple TV offers a compelling value proposition, one which we're confident will motivate the entire industry to develop and deliver products which interoperate even better, at even lower cost, delivering even more value. Ultimately, in doing so, we all stand to benefit, particularly as we get people back in front of the big screen, together. Maybe, just maybe, the new Apple TV will promote a few more families to gather around the television to enjoy a shared content experience together, to set aside their iPhones, iPods, and iPads for a few minutes or a few hours. Whether viewing a high budget movie from a major studio delivered over a high-speed Internet link, or simply enjoying family photos served off of a personal computer in the home, we think there's real benefit for those families and friends gathering to connect and enjoy; that's the motivation for all of us to keep at it, to keep delivering products our customers want, at a range of price points, in a truly multi-vendor environment.

We've learned a lot about the art and science of content sharing over the last seven years. One of the most important things we've learned is that this race is a marathon, not a sprint. We'd like to take this opportunity to welcome Apple to the race.

See you on the couch.

I'll clarify a few more of my thoughts over the coming days, and try to answer a number of questions that've already come in from some of you. The point is, Apple's entry to the market is a huge challenge to DLNA, a challenge to move beyond the vernacular of DMPs, DMCs, and DMRs, to deliver a clearer message to the average consumer. DLNA's value proposition has always been solid; the challenge has been, how to get an alliance of more than 200 members to agree on a single message, one which resonates with the average consumer. Apple's entry into this market now gives them an end-to-end solution that looks suspiciously like a DLNA architecture--iTunes as the digital media server (DMS); the new Apple TV as the digital media player (DMP); and the iPhone, iPod, and iPad as digital media renderers (DMRs) or digital media controllers (DMCs).

DLNA's always had the architecture right; now it's time to get the message right. Ironically, Apple's announcement may've been the best possible kick in the pants for DLNA and its members. Personally, I have a foot in both camps; I ordered the new Apple TV today, which will be the DMP in an all-Mac content flow (Mac Mini as DMS, iPad as DMC/DMR, Apple TV as DMP). But, I also firmly believe in DLNA; today I picked up the Samsung Epic 4G, which serves as a DLNA DMC/DMR, to go with my Promise DLNA NAS (DMS). I think I have a DLNA DMP floating around here somewhere, but that'll have to wait...


  1. I've said it before but IMO DMPs are a dime a dozen (Roku, WD and countless others), yet no-one seems to put much effort into DMS. To me it means more than being able to browse and view content on a server. I'm still looking for the ideal DMS, but for now SageTV is as close as I've got. I really hoped Apple would address this as the AppleTV is really only the insignificant piece of the puzzle. We now have AirPlay but how can ewe integrate this with something like (but better) than EyeTV?

  2. Oh Mike, you knew that the pot would be stirred on that status update =) There will always be alternative technologies out there, which is the good thing for any industry - that way, the market can decide what works for them. If you want to message to the consumer, you have to make it simple. DMSs, DMPs, DMRs, and DMCs - these all confuse the average consumer out there who would be utilizing these products to create their own interoperable network. And you and I both know from personal experience on herding cats to create a unified message involving so many participants...extremely challenging to accomplish.

    Good luck fielding all those calls, posts & tweets my friend! BTW - I'd trim down that press release - too long and reporters would just snooze through it or delete before reading it all ;-)

  3. Wow, 7500 certified devices? That must mean that there are approximately 500 unique devices for every person that actually uses DLNA...

    And only 325 unique and pathetic attempts at a GUI, most of which are unusable, slow, and crash a lot.

    DLNA has always had the architecure *WRONG*, as Intel created it (like much that it does) essentially to ensure that you had to have a high powered Intel x86 CPU in the middle of the whole shebang to do all the format conversions.

    DLNA did do a couple of things right: They used ZeroConfig, put classes in UPnP, and they finally got DTCP over IP by the content providers. But then they muddied the waters with "required formats", third party set-up engines, DMAs vs DMC vs whatever else, and they screwed it up.

    SliMP3, Roku, etc., did music far better than "true" DLNA implementations, and I know of very few people who truely want to network photos, save, perhaps, to a digital pictureframe. Even that only requires UPnP, not DLNA.

    If AppleTV becomes the second usable video platform (after streaming NetFlix), it will just go to show that usability is far more important than specifications and architecures, esp. when those architectures are tailored only to suit the business needs of a single company.