CES 2012: Eric Schmidt Envisions A Home Where Every Gadget Knows You

Former Google CEO Envisions A Home Where Every Gadget Knows You

LAS VEGAS -- Google wants to do a little remodeling over at your place.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said the company's Android software, which already powers smartphones, tablets, TVs and laptops, could give rise to a household where personalized appliances communicate with one another and alter their performance based on the people present in the room.

Text messages could be sent to your television, or emails to your fridge.

"What you really want to be able to do is when you walk into your house with an Android device, you have all these things with computers that adjust as necessary," Schmidt said during a panel hosted Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest consumer tech tradeshow. "When you go into the family room, the television knows it's you because of your Android device ... If a text message comes to you, it goes to you to television, depending on whether that's your preference or not. It all syncs together."

The notion of a connected home, where users can exert more control over their devices and closely monitor their performance, is nothing new. Yet the household represents relatively new territory for Google, which less than a decade ago was focused squarely on the web. Already the company has made efforts to conquer the living room with Google TV, and that isn't likely to be the final frontier: Schmidt noted that Android, which is free and open source, has already been used in refrigerators, though not by Google.

Schmidt argued that previous attempts at building an energy-efficient and interconnected "smart home" have been misguided and that delivering the household of the future requires putting domestic devices online.

"All the previous discussions were focused on the uber home server, some central master that was watching what's happening in all the devices in the house," Schmidt said. "In fact, that's completely wrong. The right model is to think of these as peer-to-peer devices that talk to each other."

"Computing devices that are not on a network are lonely," he added. "It does not make sense to have anything now that's not on wifi."

Companies such as Nest, which manufactures a "learning thermostat," are already delivering wifi-enabled appliances that can be customized and controlled using homeowners' smartphones.

Though optimistic about the possibility for dumb devices to become more intelligent, Schmidt chided gadget manufacturers for producing gadgets that are far too complicated for consumers to operate.

"The trick to consumer products is to make them work. It is remarkable to me ... all the time we've spent building products that aren't very good, that take an enormous amount of technical knowledge to keep running," Schmidt said. "We’ve seen in the last few years a number of vendors make a product that’s so simple it just works. Underlying that simplicity is extraordinarily difficult and expensive engineering."

The former Google CEO also went on a brief rant criticizing Apple’s patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung, and its move to stop the South Korean company from selling its Galaxy Tab tablet in Europe.

"Apple works very hard to block choice in Germany by trying to prevent Samsung tablets from being available. That’s called prevention of choice,” he said. “Consumers should want choice. I don’t mind if they prefer the other guys' product more [than mine], but we'd like you to evaluate both fairly ... It’s called competition.”

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