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13 Predictions About How Industry Will Look in 20 Years

Will big racks disappear? Will consumers be able to subsidize home theaters? Jason Knott looks into his crystal ball.


CE Pro editor Jason Knott in 1991. Does it surprise you that he was a geek even back then?

Move over Amazing Kreskin. As CE Pro marks the start of its third decade serving the custom electronics industry, I decided to gaze into my crystal ball and foretell what the industry will look like 20 years from now.

Am I crazy? So much in the industry has changed since CE Pro’s inception in 1994. No one could have predicted the technological developments of the past two decades. I mean, we have a tough time picking the Hot Technologies to Watch for 2013, let alone trying to predict what things will look like in two decades. But here goes:

Entry-level Home Automation Will be Prevalent: We are already seeing successes from integrators like ADT and Vivint with their minimalistic lighting/security/HVAC control combination. This approach will continue to grow. I predict there will be 30 percent to 50 percent household penetration of home automation by 2033.

Big Racks Will Disappear: As more cloud-based systems develop, the need for big racks of equipment will go away. This will mean that home networks will be the basis of your business, not A/V.

No More A/V Retail: Custom will be king. With the continuing growth of the Internet, it will be too difficult to maintain the overhead on a retail storefront.

Cameras Everywhere: As much as audio and video have become staple categories for integrators, I expect surveillance cameras to be nearly as strong. They will be ubiquitous 20 years from now.

Projectors Continue to Grow: Remember in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” how homes had one-, two-, and three-walled home theaters? It will be here in 20 years for sure.

Subsidized Home Theater: It’s only a matter of time before finance companies wake up to the fact that custom integrators will sell a lot more home theaters if consumers could make monthly payments.

Thriving Independent Installation Channel: Back in the 1980s when Brink’s created the low-cost alarm system and the Regional Bell Operating Companies were invading the security industry, everyone predicted the death of the independent installer. It didn’t happen then and I don’t see it happening by 2033. I believe certain consumers will still gravitate to professional installers.

Installation Codes Will Develop: Currently, residential fire alarm systems are the only low-voltage area that must be installed and inspected by municipal code. By 2033, I expect the government will want to get permit and inspection fees for installations of burglar alarms, home automation systems and even home theaters.

Apple Will Pay More Attention to Custom: If Apple wants to continue to be considered a high-end product, it will have to lend even more support to Mac-based automation and control systems, not to mention A/V.

Integrators Will Sell and Deploy Household Robots: It will start with robotic vacuum cleaners and progress to interactive robots that will take commands for an automation system.

Related: Introduction to Reselling Household Robots

CE Pro Will be Digital and Online Only: The publishing industry is already seeing weaker publications go to digital-only formats. As more integrators become accustomed to getting their news via tablets, smartphones and laptops, the print edition will eventually go away. (I hope I keep my job for that prediction!)

Integrators Will Do Electrical Work: The market conditions will require low-voltage integrators to do line-voltage also. If you don’t it will be tough to survive.

Bonus Prediction: Justin Bieber will not be President, but only because he is Canadian.

For those of you who plan to still be in the custom installation business in 2033 and are devoted enough to save this column until then to see how accurate (or inaccurate) my 13 predictions were, God bless you.

Well, where am I wrong or right, and what’s missing?

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About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Greg  on  02/09  at  07:02 AM

Big racks disappear?
I don’t think you know what goes into a rack..

Amplifiers, processors, dimmer packs, networking equipment and more.. You can’t replace that stuff with a ‘cloud’. Let alone run it with something that relies upon an unreliable internet connection.

Posted by paulcunningham  on  02/15  at  07:41 PM

Amps - plenty of speakers these days have built-in amps, and some are already network-enabled; in 20 years it’s not so far-fetched to think that they could be PoE as well. At the very least, digital amps will get smaller and more powerful and better-sounding especially for typical distributed audio systems - install a PoE amp in the ceiling with your traditional passive speaker perhaps, or ride your entire system off of a few RU of rack space.

Lumencache and others are already forging ahead with IP-based lighting/dimming.

If we can get away from dedicated source equipment like cable boxes and media servers distributed via matrices, and instead have that functionality embedded into “Smart” TVs or local AV processors (look at Just Add Power / Roku and add a couple decades of development), what’s left in the rack? Network hardware, NAS, and a UPS.

Also in 20 years (what a long time in technology land - do you remember what it was like in 1993?), I would hope that more internet connections will be reliable. I agree that a control system that relies on an internet connection is a bad thing, but the controller will just be another local network device (all devices will be IP-controlled right???), or the control plane can be distributed among multiple local gateways or processors or even remotes/apps, like some controller-less WLAN systems are today.

Posted by paulcunningham  on  02/15  at  08:02 PM

Also, I think that Apple will never pay attention to custom (nor will any other large company), and we will always and forever have to fight and adapt to them. We can only hope that control standards can be established and adhered to. This is a prediction list, not a wish list, right?

Proper control systems will still not be prevalent, but cheap and rudimentary DIY systems will. Imagine if Sonos or one of its successors introduced NEST-style thermostats and light switches.

Further, Justin Bieber will become an influential congressman who will get the “born in the USA” law to change so he can become president by popular demand. One Direction will comprise the bulk of his cabinet, with Honey Boo Boo as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Posted by mjmcgaughey  on  02/19  at  11:14 PM

In addition to home automation and the custom installer business, I spend a good deal of my time investing in and researching the market opportunities for mobile start-ups, in areas such as mobile payments, mobile marketing, mobile access control, automotive telematics and mobile apps, mobile parking, mobile vending and smart TVs.  Apple, Google, Samsung, LG, Microsoft, AT&T and others all see home automation as strategic areas for investment. You can expect massive innovation, change, new business models, chaos and new players over the next 20 years. And China will be a big factor due to the rapid growth and enormous wealth being created.

I believe the biggest new area of focus and opportunity for custom installers in 2033 will be where high-end home owners generally spend the most money today – the kitchen.  You will see connected appliances; work surfaces that are “all screen”; voice and “Minority Report-like” 3D hand gesture control; projectors, cameras and sensors in the kitchen that automatically recognize and tailor information & preferences to who’s in the room, and assist the growing number of seniors.  With all of the innovation and competing technologies there should be attractive growth and profit opportunities for custom installers to pull all of this complexity together and make it work for the customer. (Here’s a peak at some of Apple’s ideas:

Also, I wouldn’t write off Apple so quickly for the custom installer market. If it were up to me I would find a way for the custom installer industry to create a strategic innovation and go-to-market alliance with Apple specifically focused on the high-end custom installer market for the home.  There are some shared values that might be leveraged.  Apple has always been focused on a seamless, elegant, easy-to-use user experience, which in the A/V market has been the biggest gap from the customers’ perspective for years.  And strategically Apple has always focused on and priced at the high-end of the market. They also attract the wealthier, biggest spending customers, those most likely to invest in high-end automation.

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