Thu 19 Apr
Home furnishings mega-retailer Ikea is intent on remaking the living room. This fall they will start selling Uppleva (apparently the Swedish word for experience; you have to admire its inherent optimism), a home theater furniture system that integrates a flat-screen television, a 2.1 channel sound system, a Blu-Ray/DVD player and wi-fi-based networking. The Verge’s write-up is an excellent overview of what we know so far about this just-announced line.
Uppleva’s introductory video is charming and worth a watch, if only to see the things that Ikea emphasizes: the system is designed to minimize or even eliminate the need for cables, though how exactly it manages to pull off that feat is not specified. The cabinetry around the electronics can be customized to suit your particular home decor tastes; I’m not sure you can say that it can be highly customized but it does seem as configurable as most Ikea systems.
This is a thoughtful if furniture-centric response to the what I’ve called “the living room problem” — that existential dilemma of wrangling numerous, barely compatible electronics and cables into as coherent a user experience as possible, a task too often left without guidance or care to hapless consumers. Very, very few of us have what anyone would describe as a simple-to-use home theater system; there is always some imperfect compromise of boxes and remote controls and user interfaces, and an ugly mess of wires and cables hidden behind the hardware. It’s a first world problem, to be sure, but within the realm of what should be capable and what is economically desirable, the living room problem is perhaps the biggest failing of the consumer electronics industry as a whole. There are few shortcomings quite as glaring and prevalent.
Anyway, back to Ikea’s Uppleva. Notwithstanding the fact that Ikea’s furniture is depressingly fragile and disposable, I think this new product line has its heart in the right place; they are standing up and taking charge of the total user experience in a way that few other companies have seemed capable or willing to do. Not just the integration of components, but how the whole package fits into the home from the standpoint of both functionality and decor. That’s at least a glimmer of the attitude that will be needed to create a commercially successful solution to the living room problem.
Uppleva could prove a hit for Ikea (at least until the advent of whatever television solution Apple has been rumored to be cooking up), but the one major detail that this announcement and video seems to gloss over is the software. Creating good software is extremely hard, especially in the living room, where the bar for technical proficiency must be extremely low. Even pure software companies struggle with creating good software, and digital hardware manufacturers, who you would think ought to know better, routinely turn out terrible, terrible software. How good is a furniture maker’s software going to be? We’ll see this fall.