30 Years of CEDIA, 30 Years of Tech — Part 6

Ed Wenck | Apr 22, 2019

As CEDIA turns 30, the association’s Technology Council takes a look back at the last 30 years of innovation – specifically noting the technological advances that have impacted CEDIA’s membership.

Here it is, the big finish: The last installment of the CEDIA Technology Council’s list of 30 innovations that have made a difference in the way we live — and the way our member companies work — since the association was founded 30 years ago.
The advances that have been made since 1989 are extraordinary. The ones that we’ve covered include everything from the evolution of television from the CRT to the flat-panel screen to the very birth of the World Wide Web.
The first 25 items we’ve covered are excellent examples of the quickening pace of change that have impacted the industry in ways few could’ve likely predicted at the first CEDIA Expo in Amelia Island. The final five are no different.

In 1989, most folks thought of nothing more than television when the word “network” came up. “1989 is when the world wide web actually started,” notes Nathan Holmes. “It wasn't thought to be anything more than an experimental project, but it ultimately became what we think of as ‘the internet’ today.” Home computing wasn’t really a network of devices at all at first; often just a single PC connected via dial-up. Then, in 1993, GPS became viable: “This tied together so many different things that allowed developing the transfer of data and information to become viable,” says Holmes. Things, of course, would eventually get their very own internet (see Part 4), and eventually Wi-Fi became an option in 1997, but it wouldn’t have the speeds it would need to be an effective solution until the second decade of the 21st century. Today, mesh Wi-Fi networks — as convenient as they are — are once again proving that a wired backbone is still the best solution. “Mesh solutions have given people a comfort factor in thinking that they can connect anywhere in their home but they don't understand the performance that they're giving up for that,” says Holmes.
Codes and standards weren’t really a thing when it came to what CEDIA was doing – at first. Walt Zerbe, CEDIA’s Senior Director of Technology and Standards, says, “In 1989, there weren’t any connected devices, IoT, or what have you. Policies and privacy for ‘connected devices’ didn’t exist.” That changed, especially as the internet became a must-have for modern living. “Network standards were 10BaseT, we’re at the Gigabit now and about to move to 10Gb in the home,” notes Zerbe. Building codes have gotten tougher, especially when it comes to energy loss (see our chat with Ken Erdmann about “vampire power draws” in Part Five of this series), notes Zerbe, “and legislatures in the U.S., for example, oftentimes still don’t understand the differences between the low-voltage expert and electricians.” The good news? Insurance companies have taken note: “You could maybe get a break on your home insurance if you had a security system. Now you can get insurance breaks for having a smart theromstat and water mitigation devices,” says Zerbe.
Computer processing has become smaller, cheaper, and more diverse than ever. Apple introduced the “Macintosh Portable” in 1989, but the 16-pound, $6,500 machine was only around for two years. This was while the original observation known as “Moore’s Law” was still in effect: the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled every two years (it’s since slowed a bit). As handheld devices and cell phones with cameras began to appear, and the power of smaller and smaller machines grew, new terms entered the lexicon: cloud (on-demand storage and power via the internet), edge (enabling data gathering and analytics to be moved from centralized nodes to the device at the source of the data), and fog computing (spreading the effort of all that processing, so to speak, between cloud and edge devices).
For the last two items on our list of 30, we invited Rich Green (Rich Green Ink) to comment. He went us one better – and volunteered to pen the final entries.
Take it away, Mr. Green.

We discovered Design Thinking. During CEDIA’s infancy custom installers had little awareness of the emerging field of Human-Centered Design. Those were the freewheeling days of engineered solutions to problems that no one really had. We invented a marketplace of gadgets and experiences that were nearly impossible to use without cheat sheets and weekly service calls. That perspective changed suddenly in 2002 when CEDIA launched the ESC-D Designer Certification, which led to new insights about the process of client discovery and needs analyses. CEDIA offered its very first class on usability testing that same year at Expo in Minneapolis. We learned from our clients and designed customized systems optimized for their specific needs. As CEDIA designers probed their client’s lifestyles with a newfound sense of empathy, CEDIA adopted the benefits and expanding marketplaces of ergonomics, indoor air quality, acoustics, Green and LEED building standards, health and wellness, assistive living and aging in place technologies, to name just a few. Designing for the intended user with empathy opened up vast areas of profitability and customer loyalty.
And changed the user experience — the “UX” — forever. “User Experience,” or UX, is a term coined by famed Apple designer Donald Norman in the early 1990s, shortly after CEDIA got its start. There was a clear and obvious need to make sense of the human relationship to products and technology, which was abysmal back in the day. Who remembers the infamous Sony IR remote control with — literally — 140 buttons? AMX got the ball rolling for us with the first electroluminescent touch panel and we suddenly became Graphical User Interface (GUI) designers — or not. We made all the usual blunders as we learned more about our customers’ experience.  Sadly, many of those early touch panels went unused. One of CEDIA’s founders, Chris Stevens, saw the opportunity instinctively and invented the very first audio keypad: Model KPS-101 from his new company, Audioaccess. It was a marvel of human engineering and usability and opened up the hugely profitable world of multi-zone audio. The irony is that we are circling back to keypads just like the KPS-101 because they are intuitive and obvious. We have strong roots.

What have we forgotten in this list? If you have any suggestions, drop us a line — Ed Wenck can be reached at ewenck@cedia.org.