Reliable, high-speed Internet is about much more than just getting that YouTube clip of cats playing guitars to stream at breakneck speeds. Coupled with Web-enabled devices and online databases, high-speed Internet can radically change the way you store, access and process your content.
What, for instance, if you didn’t need local storage? If you had an Internet connection so fast and dependable that you could store your music or videos elsewhere on the Web and stream them into your devices as you wished? In much the same way you know your email is always available on your Gmail account online, in the future you would always have a storehouse of entertainment and information available online, on tap. In the case of appliances and devices, connecting them to the Internet would make homes more intelligent and more efficient.
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So how will this change the home of the future? We look at five aspects of contemporary domestic living that could change completely in a future of high-speed Internet and always-on cloud storage:
Perhaps the first of your gadgets to be wholly replaced by Web-enabled devices will be the DVD player. Already, devices such as Apple TV bring streaming video to regular televisions. In the future, TVs will come with onboard hardware allowing us to hook them up directly to the Internet. (Sony has already announced that it is working with Google’s Internet TV platform.) After you couple your connected TV with an online movie-streaming service, there’s no further need to purchase or store expensive DVDs. Every movie you want will be just a few clicks away.
A single Kindle 3 can store 3,500 books—sufficient space, in other words, to hold every textbook a student will use in her lifetime and then some. Imagine the paper, the space, and the schoolbag weight that can be saved if children are handed e-book readers when they enter school, to be used right up until graduation. Students can even use tablet devices to take exams, their scores being automatically emailed to parents; if they pass, textbooks for the next year are automatically downloaded. (Parents, an added bonus: You can keep track of which textbooks get read and which don’t.)
And not just land lines, mind. If homes, offices and eventually entire cities can be blanketed with Wi-Fi, every element of our voice-based communication can piggy-back on the Web. This doesn’t take a great leap of imagination. Skype, Google Talk and Apple’s FaceTime app have already started to do just that. All that’s left is ubiquitous Wi-Fi, and some common communication protocols to make things as easy as picking up the phone.
We’re not saying you won’t be using word-processing software or browsing the Web—we’re just saying that you probably won’t need a separate computer for it. If you have a TV that connects to the Web, and the cloud stores all your applications and data, why bother with another computer? Already, services such as Google Docs are accessed via just a browser; putting that browser on a television eliminates the computer altogether. If you must have a separate smaller monitor for work, the solution is to get just that: a monitor, and an attached, keyboard, to share the Internet connection. But otherwise: one household, one visual display.
Cisco Systems, the networking giant, now offers several Smart Building and Smart Grid solutions to help consumers and businesses centrally manage things such as energy consumption. Eventually every appliance in your house, from a ceiling fan to a bathroom water heater, can have an IP address of its own. When you swipe out of your office in the evening, the system can tell your water heater to switch itself on. When you swipe in at the lobby of your building, the air conditioner comes on. By the time you reach home, your shower is hot, your living room is cool, and the lighting is set to mellow.