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The Fifth Annual Interactive Music Conference
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: Appliantology

Participants: A.K.A. "The Pasty White Guys" Brad Barmore; Intel
David Battino; Revolution magazine Charles Boswell; AMD
Scott Kasin; Sigmatel Stephen Handley; Texas Instruments
  Facilitator: Van Webster; Webster Communications

Group Goal: To identify problems and offer approaches for the development of computer audio appliances.

Appliances are task-specific devices that may or may not have subordinate utilities. Consumers are attracted to appliances because they are simple, reliable and durable.

In audio, consumers have listening habits that fall into predictable patterns. The following table indicates the most important cross points where listening style and location intersect.

Application Consumer
Personal X X  
Portable X    
Home X X X
Car X    
Office X   X
Public X X  

Principles of Appliantology

There are five key features of successful media as described by Richard Ducy, V.P. NAB:

  • It must be Economical
  • It must be Structured
  • It must be Easy to Use
  • It must Offer something compelling
  • It must be Synergistic

We applied these models to computer-based audio appliances to see where products could be developed or improved.

1. Economical

The consumer must perceive the device to be a good value. Systems that are too expensive, either as hardware or software, will yield to cheaper schemes. The "quality at any price" market is very small. Conversely, even inexpensive products will not be perceived as economical if they are not sufficiently durable and stylish.

"Advertising, word of mouth and personal experience create perceived value." -VW

Economic Factors:

  • Materials
  • Manufacturability
  • Design Requirements
  • Business Model
    • Hardware
    • Software
    • Service

Marketing Factors:

  • Changing Market, Knowledgeable Consumers
  • Wider Distribution
  • Availability
  • Product Features/Benefits

Image - Consumer Perception:

  • Consumer Appeal
  • Marketing/Advertising/Branding
  • Obsolescence - minimum five-year life cycle
  • Durability/Reliability

2. Structured Media systems must offer the familiarity of conventions.

Consumers must know what to expect. Structure brings order to chaos. It creates comfort by meeting the consumer's expectations. For example, the button with the right-pointing green triangle always means Play.

"Structure helps connect the user with the content." -VW

Controls and access should be intuitive.

Asset management/Library management creates order out of chaos.

Remote service backup is a way to protect data and hard disk contents. For music libraries, only the lists of titles need to be saved; the songs can be downloaded from a central library.

Organizing Chaos - Shift in user model. As the market for music products evolves, a greater number of young consumers will be computer savvy, creating a new model of operator expectations.

3. Easy to Use

Controls and feature sets must be easy to use and understand.

"Consumers choose convenience over quality every time." -VW

Consumers don't go into a record store and buy music based on whether it was recorded on a Neve or an SSL console. They buy music for the song and the artist. MP3 for example, is a clearly inferior quality music format. Consumers have adopted MP3 as a carrier because it is convenient to download and the content is free (for now).

Computing in a music appliance should be hidden:

  • Consumers have no patience with booting up - "Instant on" is a necessity.
  • Eliminate Burden of Syntax - Consumers should not have to deal with computerese in accomplishing their goals.
  • The Operating System should be transparent to the user.

Ergonomics of audio appliances:

  • Essential Features are intuitive and easily accessible
  • Controllers can include devices for Fingers/Lips/Speech Recognition/Motion Sensors
  • The Disabled can benefit from simplified and adapted controls.
  • Interaction should allow the user to participate in the music process if desired.
  • Where the user Interface resides is dependent on the application. Remotes, wireless, controls built into furniture are all possibilities.

Simple Installation:

  • Number of devices vs. clutter - Single-function devices vs. multifunction devices. The installation must fit with the user's environment and the controls should be able to be understood without a manual.

4. Compelling

Consumers must be motivated by the medium. The form and content work together to make an irresistible package.

"The Package must have a benefit the consumer just can't pass up." -VW

Feature Set for Audio Appliances:

  • Portability for personal devices
  • Scalability - Configurability. The same content must be able to fit a wide range of devices.
  • Multi-channel audio is increasingly important.
  • Active Ambient Noise Management may be helpful in noisy environments.
  • Additional information about the artist, song, film or program is a bonus. A display of song titles is highly desirable.
  • Some listeners or situations may benefit from special effects including spatial simulations (spatialization)
  • Intercom capability may be used for family or work contacts.
  • Internet radio will be a big feature of Web-enabled devices. Simplified tuning services will aid customization.
  • Subwoofer placement can add dynamics, especially with motion-activated devices.
  • Mission planning for entertainment will enable consumers to program their listening to match commutes and trip schedules.
  • Content can include Games/Audio/Movies/Video

5. Synergistic

The product must add value to something the consumer already owns. No new product exists in a vacuum. New purchases need to fit in with the consumer's existing system. For example, a CD player adds value to a component Stereo System. A new CD ads valued to the CD player.

"At what point does the appeal of the improvement overwhelm the obstacle to change?" -VW

Content Delivery to the device:

  • Content format must fit a wide range of player profiles.
    • Interconnections must be simple and reliable.
      • Method of Delivery - Carrier
        PNA, Wireless, DSL etc.
      • Network infrastructure can be built into home and mobile systems. Possibilities include a Home Server with a library of music on it. Another alternative is a remote server with high-speed access. In either case, a reliable system of library backup is required.
      • Linked Devices enable the same content library to be played in multiple locations or accessed by multiple users within the family.
      • Sensing the network type should be built into the components so that all units are plug-and-play.
    • Successful products will accommodate existing and future media.

  • Product Packaging and Aesthetics are critical elements of consumer acceptance.
    • The product's appearance must fit in with the environment and the consumer's lifestyle. The same content can be packaged in multiple configurations to match consumer tastes.
    • Home furnishings can integrate audio appliances with sound-generating devices and controls.


  • Consumer listening occurs in the following locations:
    • Personal listening on ultra-mobile devices, usually with headphones. Often used during physical activity.
    • Portable devices for individual and small group listening using built in loud speakers (e.g., boom boxes).
    • Home audio equipment, usually AC-powered and often part of a more complex home entertainment system. May also include personal radios for morning alarm use.
    • Car systems built into the vehicle. Electronic components sized to fit standard packaging. Loudspeakers distributed throughout the passenger compartment. May include headphone outputs and options for individual listeners to select individual programs. May have integrated cell phone and navigation capability.
    • Public venues range from background music in retail and work environments to concert music performances.


The Audio appliance is a revolutionary thing - it doesn't look like a PC.

Products that use computer music can be packaged to meet the range of consumer applications.

It was our opinion that the majority of listening is by consumers in a background context where the listening is secondary to other activities. In consumer foreground listening, the consumer is engaged actively in the audio program, often in concert with visual entertainment (e.g., games, TV, and movies).

Professional listeners are persons actively engaged in the creation and reproduction of audio programs. They include musicians, producers, engineers, sound designers and developers. By the nature of their work, they are active, foreground listeners.

The following grid compares listening applications with listening environments to profile system needs.

Media Player in
Personal device

Media Player in
Personal device

Media player/
Player/Recorder in
Portable device
Player/Recorder as
a component
Player/Recorder as
a component
Player in an
integrated device
Player in an
integrated device
Player/Recorder in
a desktop device
Media Player in a
jukebox device
DJ player


Action Items

This topic has been a resonant theme through multiple BBQ events. It reflects a continuing interest among members of the BBQ group to simplify and universalize the computer audio experience for the widest range of listeners. As the BBQ group is a voice for change within the computer audio community, we recommend that:

  • The report of this group and the reports of previous groups on this subject be combined in an easily accessible form for manufacturers to uses as a reference guide.
  • Press releases and other outreach programs be initiated to direct interested parties to the information on the Web site.
  • BBQ offer a printed report to interested parties for a fee.
  • Members of the BBQ community make appropriate persons at their companies aware of the information on this subject available from BBQ.

Respectfully submitted, 10/22/00 Brad Barmore Stephen Handley Scott Kasin David Battino Charles Boswell Van Webster (Facilitator)

section 4

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select a section:  1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. The Appliantology Group  5. The Multichannel Audio Working Group  
6. The Intellectual Property - Business Models To Save Your Soul Group 
7. The General Interactive Audio Group   8. Schedule & Sponsors