Cisco is going to launch a new product at the Consumer Electronics Show in January intended to "take on" Apple, Sony, and other brands that sell technology products to regular folks.The revolutionary idea? A wireless music system, to be followed by a gizmo for easier Internet video chat.
Selling the idea of homes that are networked for digital media has been the buzz at CES for a few years now ... although not so much for its relevance and reality, but rather because manufacturers are so disappointed that consumers can't quite see the point.
"The Digital Home" is a no-brainer for technology gurus: Everyone should desire to share music, video, and data effortlessly between devices, not to mention integrating the Internet and/or remote controls into utility functions, like heating and electricity. Massive amounts of money have been spent on trade booth displays at CES to graphically and creatively portray just how marvelously obvious these benefits should be.
Only they're not. Technology brands are experiencing what toothpaste makers have known for years: Consumers rarely do what they're supposed to do.
Worse, just because something is technically possible doesn't automatically translate into it being necessary. True utility usually requires some quantum leap in functional benefits, whether in fighting cavities or digital performance. People didn't adopt laser discs, in spite of the benefits of clearer pictures, because they came with drawbacks of size, fragility, and cost. It took Apple's iPod and iTunes cross-device hegemony to empower folks to finally move music onto their computers, and then into mobile devices.
A smart idea isn't enough. Maybe Cisco can make a go of it, but nobody is clamoring for an enhanced wireless music system. And Microsoft has a multiyear jump on working (and failing) to prove otherwise.
Cisco's challenge isn't to "take on" other manufacturers; it's finding a way to make its brand truly relevant to consumers.
Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.