After completing phase one of its consumer research project, Orange at home, Orange has come to the conclusion that a connected house with central intelligence that reacts to you is still a long way off.
Broadband and wireless are in but home automation — allowing control of and communication between various electronic home devices — is still too expensive compared to any real benefit it brings.
Orange has identified products it can bring to market, hopefully within the next 12 months. What they were, Orange wasn't saying but went so far as to specify peace of mind services, entertainment and music as areas covered. Peace of mind covers aspects like being able to open your front door remotely if your kids have forgotten their keys, or monitoring a sleeping baby.
Four families have lived in the detached Hatfield house since PC Advisor last visited and their feedback, coupled with focus groups and visitor questionnaires, has proved interesting.
The families chosen for participation were selected by an agency and came from Poole, Hemel, South London and the North East.
The built-in home automation meant, for example, that from a panel on the wall you could control the lighting throughout the house. But despite the flexibility it offered, for everyday use people preferred the humble light switch which is much quicker and simpler to use.
Another example of needless application of technology in phase one was the wireless radiator control in the hallway. People tend not to alter heating settings that often, so providing a centralised system to control it was of little value.
On a positive note, the families liked the advantages wireless networks and broadband provided.
Surfing the web on a tablet in the lounge was a more sociable experience than doing it in the seclusion of a study or spare bedroom. But technology moves quickly and, in the last year, broadband internet and wireless LANs have become readily available at an affordable price.
New in the house is a web-connected digital photo frame which you could email photos to. Although currently of limited use, Orange predict with the advent of MMS (multimedia messaging services, son of SMS) the application will take off. If you're travelling abroad you could take a photo with your phone and send it direct to the photo frame without any further intervention.
Streamed internet content, brought in by a 2Mbps (megabits per second) link, proved popular if it provided material not available via traditional broadcast. One father was a motorcycle racing fan and watched a significant amount of races on the web.
But voice recognition, an important interface to an intelligent home, proved troublesome — not in the recognition system, but in the application of technology.
Array microphones embedded into surroundings proved the most discreet but didn't provide sufficient quality for accurate recognition. Wired headsets proved the most successful but were cumbersome, with wireless headsets falling in between the two.
Orange hasn't ruled out further live-in trials for more families, but has no concrete plans at the moment.
Orange is now looking into advanced home telephony — allowing the network to handle calls depending on where you are and what time it is. You might not, for example, want to receive work calls after nine o'clock when you're at home. Or even before.