Ikea and the quest to simplify your home entertainment

April 19, 2012

The road to home entertainment nirvana has long been the Bermuda Triangle of the technology world. It is a promise we’ve heard before: the simple, seamless home entertainment experience. Enter Ikea, the world’s largest furniture retailer. Yes, Ikea.

The road to home entertainment nirvana has long been the Bermuda Triangle of the technology world. It is a promise we’ve heard before: the simple, seamless home entertainment experience. Microsoft has taken a run at the living room via PC many times. Sony has gone the other direction — by bringing a consumer electronics approach to the PC — albeit with similar results. Apple TV has thus far failed to take off. Google TV remains a bit too techy for the masses. Philips, LG, Intel have all given it a go.

Enter Ikea, the world’s largest furniture retailer. Yes, Ikea.

Ikea has recently introduced Uppleva, a customizable home entertainment system that combines flat-screen TV, Blu-ray DVD player, CD/MP3 player and internet connection into a single piece of furniture. Uppleva is modular, too — available in a range of sizes, color and configurations. (Uppleva is not yet available in the US.)

As crazy as it may sound at first blush, this actually makes perfect sense. Ikea is all about enhancing everyday life by making smart design accessible to the masses. The most glaring everyday pains wrought by technology evolution (makeshift wiring, too many devices and an assortment of remotes) are ripe targets for a brand built on affordable solutions for everyday living.

There is precedent here for Ikea stepping outside of its perceived comfort zone of home furnishings to offer a more complete living solution. They have been selling kitchen appliances for the past several years — mostly as white label products manufactured by Whirlpool. The TVs in the Uppleva product line are manufactured by TCL, a Chinese consumer electronics company that is among the world’s largest producers of televisions.

Two reasons why this idea just might be crazy enough to work:

1. Technology is furniture in our day-to-day lives.
Ikea is positioning their new entertainment console as, essentially, furniture with video. Think back to those old walnut TV and stereo consoles of yesteryear. The home entertainment set-up was a centerpiece of the living room. Yet today two-thirds of US households have at least 3 televisions, as screens have wormed their way into rooms throughout the house. Meanwhile, as the technology became more sophisticated, our devices lost the trappings of domesticity in favor of sleek industrial design.

So, perhaps our TVs and stereos no longer need to blend-in. But, now we’ve got TVs everywhere — and the requisite wires and devices and remotes that go with them. There is really only so much jury-rigging we can do. We need someone to help us organize this stuff; to clean it up, make it simple; to make it “work” in the room. We need someone that understands how we live and move and utilize space. Ikea can speak to this as well as any other brand in the market.

2. Simplicity and convenience trump fidelity.
Apple proved this with iTunes. Every song in your library at your fingertips is more valuable to most people than making sure they can still enjoy the highest highs and lowest lows. What MP3s lack in audio performance they make up for with practicality. Let the technology and electronics giants battle it out for pixel count, screen size and contrast ratio. For most of us, however, we live in the age of good enough technology.

Consumer electronics have advanced at such a pace that most of us can’t keep up. Take HDTV: a less-than-state-of-the-art experience is still pretty darn good. A slightly thinner screen or a marginally richer picture is not worth a 100% increase in price for most of us. One big reason that the big techno-leap into 3D TV hasn’t taken off is because the vast majority of the time we just want to watch some TV.

The Ikea brand says that your entertainment experience will be a perfectly functional one — and, as clinical as that may sound, that might be all we really want. Our day-to-day consumption of media has become more utilitarian and less connoisseurial.

I haven’t seen or experienced a real-live Uppleva. Technology integration is a beast. Unless you live in a controlled ecosystem like Apple’s the permutations and opportunities for complications seem exponential. Success demands an intuitive user experience — from assembly to operation — that is as easy as the Uppleva promise suggests. By the way, Uppleva is Swedish for experiencing.

Consider this: it took a technology company (Apple) to reimagine how we experience music. Perhaps it will take a furniture company to rethink how we experience home entertainment.

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